Oral History

Leah Hammerstein Silverstein describes bombings in Praga and Warsaw after the outbreak of World War II

Leah grew up in Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, Poland. She was active in the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir Zionist youth movement. Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Jews were forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto, which the Germans sealed off in November 1940. In the ghetto, Leah lived with a group of Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir members. In September 1941, she and other members of the youth group escaped from the ghetto to a Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir farm in Zarki, near Czestochowa, Poland. In May 1942, Leah became a courier for the underground, using false Polish papers and traveling between the Krakow ghetto and the nearby Plaszow camp. As conditions worsened, she escaped to Tarnow, but soon decided to return to Krakow. Leah also posed as a non-Jewish Pole in Czestochowa and Warsaw, and was a courier for the Jewish National Committee and the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB). She fought with a Jewish unit in the Armia Ludowa (People's Army) during the Warsaw Polish uprising in 1944. Leah was liberated by Soviet forces. After the war she helped people emigrate from Poland, then moved to Israel herself before settling in the United States.


Praga was bombarded very heavily. He, my father had a brother living on the, uh, left side of the River Vistula. You know, Warsaw is divided by the, uh, River Wisla, in English Vistula. We lived on the right bank. His brother lived on the left bank. So, he collected us children and we ran from Praga to Warsaw, uh, hoping that Warsaw is not bombarded so heavily as Praga is. The truth turned out to be the, the reverse. Warsaw was even worse bombarded than Praga. And the, the flight from Praga to Warsaw, you know, we had to cross the bridge, and the bridge was one of the main targets of these planes. Um, you know, I don't have exactly the right words to describe the panic that existed among these running people. The screams and, you know, the cries of the children, the women, the, the terrible panic that seized the population. And, and the planes coming down on you. It was a miracle that we made it through that bridge, but we did. And we came to Warsaw to my uncle. They were surprised to see us, what happened you know. And for the first time in my life I felt the smell of burning domiciles. This was the invitation to the terrible five years that came later on.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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