Oral History

Charlene Schiff describes difficulties in gaining entry to the United States in the aftermath of the Holocaust

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.


I was, and I'm speaking from a personal point of view, and I know I'm not the only one, there I was, an orphan, a survivor of unspeakable pain and atrocities of the war, and nobody extended a helping hand during the war. Now, after the war, wouldn't you think we would have priority to go out or to get out of Germany? But no, I had to wait three long years. There were quotas. There were always quotas. There were quotas to get into the United States. My...when I finally did get a hold of my family in the United States--because I remembered my grandmother's address--I still, I mean, they guaranteed that I would not be a burden to the government, and yet I had to wait three long years before I was allowed to come to the United States. Meanwhile, I, I tried on my own to get a student's visa, and I attended the University of Heidelberg for almost--well, over a year, but, uh, that would have given me a student visa. I must say that the people at the University of Heidelberg bent backwards to accommodate me. There were such a gaps in my education, formal education. It was nonexistent, and yet I took some tests and they helped me and I was accepted as a full-time student. And, uh, I will never forget that. I'm grateful for that. But I still had to wait three years to come to the United States, and I don't think that was right, to treat us in such a way.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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