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 my sister and my mother, when, when we got into the ghetto, my sister, uh, was very lucky to obtain a new job. My mother was still digging ditches and repairing roads, but my sister was able to get into a old warehouse where young women were knitting and crocheting articles of clothing for the, uh, soldiers on the front, and that was a very, a choice job because you were sitting inside and, uh, you know, it, it wasn't, uh, labor, you know, manual labor. One time she was, uh, ill and she didn't, she couldn't go in to work, and so she gave me her pass and I was to take her place in the warehouse. And so I gathered in front of the gate with all the other young women and, uh, passed as my sister. No one paid any attentions, you know, as long as you had the piece of the paper. And so when we got into the warehouse I took her place, her friends showed me where she was sitting, and picked up a scarf that she started knitting the day before. I was not very good at what I was doing, and one of the German guards started staring at me intently, and he kept watching me for quite a while, and then he started cursing and yelling at me, and I know he said I wasn't doing it fast enough, and I still didn't do it much faster 'cause I didn't know how, and he got very annoyed with me, and he grabbed one of the knitting needles out of my hand and pushed it in my forefinger, and, uh, this is what it looks like now. Uh, I passed out, and I got home that evening and that was a bitter lesson for me never to try and take my sister's place for the ration that I would have lost, she would have lost that day.