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.
How I lived in the forest, or in the forests, plural. I don't know, but it's an amazing thing, when one is hungry and completely, uh, demoralized, you become inventive. I never...when I even say it I don't believe it. I ate worms. I ate bugs. I ate anything that I could put in my mouth. And I don't know, sometimes I would get very ill. There were some wild mushrooms, I'm sure they were poison, I don't know, poisonous ones. I was ill. My stomach was a mess, but I still put it in my mouth because I needed to have something to chew. I drank water from puddles. Snow. Anything that I could get a hold of. Sometimes I would sneak into potato cellars that the farmers have around their villages, and that was a, a good hiding place because it was a little warmer in the winter. But there were rodents there and all. And, uh, to say that I ate raw rats, yes, I did. Apparently I wanted to live very, very badly, because I did undescribable things. I ate things that no one would dream of being able to. Somehow I survived. I don't know why. I keep asking myself. But I did.