Oral History

Charlene Schiff describes conditions in the Horochow ghetto

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.


When we were thrown into that ghetto, we were assigned one room. It was a large building, actually as far as I recall it was a three-story building. It was in the poorest section of town, and it was very, in great disrepair. We were assigned this one room, and there were three other families with us to share that one room. The entire house had one bathroom and one kitchen, and the running water was almost nothing, I mean there was very little water. There was no warm water, only cold water. If you wanted hot water you had to heat it on a wooden stove, and there was no wood. Uh, the, the, there was not enough room to sleep everyone on the floor in our room, and so the women--and there were two boys in that group--found some wood and they built, uh, bunks, I guess, so that we slept like in threes, because there was not enough room for all of us. Most of the people in our room were people who went to work. There were only, I think, three, four of us who were, uh, not quite 14 years of age, and we are the ones who were left at home in the house to fend for ourselves in the very beginning. The people who did not go to work did not receive any rations. The rations were very meager. I am not quite sure the, the weights, but it was like maybe two slices of bread, some oleo, a little bit of sugar, and I think some vegetables. I don't think there was any meat at all, and these rations, first they were given daily, then when the Judenrat organized everything it was done once a week, and usually by the second or third day everything was gone. My mother and sister shared their rations with me. It was very difficult, and in the beginning there was an awful lot of chaos. Uh, the kids, like myself, the younger, were really left with nothing to do. We were very hungry. We were dirty. We were unsupervised, and it was very difficult to comprehend what really went on. We ate only at night, when our parents or whoever took care of us came home, and all day there was nothing to do. Consequently, the kids, like myself, decided that we had to go outside and try and get some food. It was an unbelievable feeling to be hungry and it, it's, it's a hunger that is very difficult to describe, for a child to be hungry, and there was nothing to eat. And, when I was asked, uh, many times what did we play, what did we do, we pretended, and what we played about mostly is about food. We talked about food, we pretended about--I mean, everything centered around food.


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