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.
Ingeniously, we dug out two holes in the fences, below the fences, so that a child could sneak out to the other side and, you know, take off the Star of David and try to act like a normal human being and see if we could obtain food. And now and then, children brought home some food back to the ghetto. I did it many times. It was very dangerous, because if one was caught one would pay with life. I mean, this was the order, to shoot, to kill the person, the perpetrator. I was very lucky, and now and then I would bring a slice of bread, I would bring a carrot, or a potato, or an egg, and these were very, very great achievements. My mother made me promise that I wouldn't do it anymore, but I disobeyed.