Oral History

Charlene Schiff describes the Soviet occupation of Horochow after the outbreak of World War II

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 remember it happened maybe two, three days after the actual war started, and I remember long lines of people, these were the refugees who were trying to escape from the German part of Poland, they were walk...I mean, there were people with bundles, children, and I mean it was a very sad picture, and that's what is in my mind, of all these people walking on the street, not even on the sidewalk, because there were so many of them. And then when they stopped, that's when the Germ...the Russians came in, and there they were, the soldiers and tanks. People greeted them with flowers, very happy, and it was sort of excited...exciting for me, not realizing what was happening, but there was no bloodshed in our town. You could hear the, the sound, I guess, of guns and all in the background, but for a very short time. They came in, and as far as I know, nothing really changed for us with one exception: the official language became Russian instead of Polish, because--and that was no problem, because most Europeans are bi- or trilingual because of necessity, our neighbors are all around us speaking a different language, so that was no problem. And my father still had his job. I mean, he kept his position at the university. I'm sure there were some, uh, very, uh, drastic changes, but I did not realize them. Some of the people who had businesses in stores, I guess, in town, uh, they are the ones who probably felt the change more drastically than I did, uh, because most of the stores, or all, became nationalized. And at first we had much of everything, and then all of a sudden things started to...there were shortages of bread, milk, clothing, and, uh, but that was not my problem, that was my parents' problems, and I did not sense any perceptible change in, in anything.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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