Both of Charlene's parents were local Jewish community leaders, and the family was active in community life. Charlene's father was a professor of philosophy at the State University of Lvov. World War II began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. Charlene's town was in the part of eastern Poland occupied by the Soviet Union under the German-Soviet Pact of August 1939. Under the Soviet occupation, the family remained in its home and Charlene's father continued to teach. The Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, and arrested Charlene's father after they occupied the town. She never saw him again. Charlene, her mother, and sister were forced into a ghetto the Germans established in Horochow. In 1942, Charlene and her mother fled from the ghetto after hearing rumors that the Germans were about to destroy it. Her sister attempted to hide separately, but was never heard from again. Charlene and her mother hid in underbrush at the river's edge, and avoided discovery by submerging themselves in the water for part of the time. They hid for several days. One day, Charlene awoke to find that her mother had disappeared. Charlene survived by herself in the forests near Horochow, and was liberated by Soviet troops. She eventually immigrated to the United States.
In the very beginning, my mother and several other women organized a clandestine school for children who were below the age of work, and it was a wonderful thing because we had something to look forward to. It made us forget about the hunger and about all the, the inadequacies of living such a primitive life, and this school existed for several months. Several of the ladies, including my mother, would barter on the outside and they came home with crayons, with writing paper, with some books, and I mean they would tell stories, we would sing and we would color, and it was something to look forward to. It was really, uh, if it, if it only could have lasted, but it didn't. It lasted a few months. And pretty soon there was not enough jewelry or money to barter with. There were no more supplies, school supplies, and the morale sort of sagged in the ghetto. And the women came home, and they were too tired, and too hungry, and too beaten up to be able to go and, and put on a happy face for us kids. So that disintegrated into nothing also.