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.
It seems every day from then on there were decrees. At first, it was for the Jews. We were always, we always had to congregate in the, uh, marketplace, that's the central place. And, each day there were new decrees. First, we had to bring all the gold, all the silver, all the radios, all the furs, all the rugs, the Persian, Persian rugs, everything that was of any value, we had to bring to the marketplace to give to the Germans. It was an organized thing, and everyone, there was so much chaos, and so much, uh, panic, that it, it's almost like people were going in a trance. All of a sudden, most of the heads of the families were gone. We didn't know where, when, or if we'll ever see our fathers and brothers again. Uh, I, I know now that when they took my father away, my mother was still a very young woman and she turned gray overnight, but she tried very much to camouflage her feelings, and she did not want us to, uh, to, to feel the despair that she probably felt, and everyone else there, too. We were gathered every day for different things. First, I mean, we had to part with all our dearest possessions. Then, they gathered us in the marketplace and we had to watch when they burned the main synagogue and the little...there were little, they call them shtiebels [small houses of worship], they were separate synagogues. They burned all our Torahs. They burned all the books of prayer, and we had to stand and watch. Everyone who was over 14 years of age was sent to slave labor, and that was right from the beginning after they, they, they, you know, allowed us to bring all the things to the marketplace. My mother and my sister ended up working. My mother was digging ditches, and so was my sister, and they marched them, they met at the marketplace in the begin...in the early morning, and they were marched back at night, and sometimes my sister and both my mother were black and blue from beatings, from, from, uh, uh, uh, you know, awful treatment that they endured during the day. This lasted about two weeks. I'm not quite sure of the exact time, but then one day people were told not to go to work, and we were given approximately an hour to take whatever we could carry with us, and we had to congregate again at the marketplace. There, we were told we are going to move, we are going to live, in a new place, and this is, this was the ghetto. They marched us into one of the poorest sections of town, and we were assigned a place to live.