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.
There was one time when I snuck out of the ghetto and I, uh, was lucky to obtain two eggs, and I remember I was wearing a dress with little puffed sleeves, and I put an egg in each sleeve and tried to make my way back into the ghetto. I paid for these two eggs with a small gold ring that had a ruby in it that my mother sewed into my coat. I was quite proud of myself, and I just could picture my mother's and my sister's faces when they came home and we had two eggs to eat. Just before I was entering the hole, the camouflaged hole back into the ghetto, a Ukrainian guard spotted me, and, uh, he ran over and he started screaming at me, and he found the two eggs and he threw them on the sidewalk and made me kneel down and rubbed my face in them, and screamed at me to get right back where I belong and never to show my face again on the outside. I was petrified, and I didn't give away the hiding place, the hiding entrance, I marched back into the ghetto, or he threw me back into the ghetto and that was the end of that. I guess he was one of the kind ones because he could have killed me, or he should have killed me. When I told my par...my parents...my mother and my sister that evening about my experience, she just hugged me.