Oral History

Leah Hammerstein Silverstein describes starvation in the Warsaw ghetto

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.


We came to live in the ghetto in, in October 1940. By, by March my father was dead, starved to death, literally. Because, uh, once he was cut off from the ghetto, he was cut off from his clientele and from his, from his subsistence, you know, he, and a terrible hunger was in my father's house because sometimes I was running from the kibbutz to see how my father is doing. And it was a sight which I will never forget. And I run to see my grandmother, whom I loved because she was the substitute of my mother, you know. And Randy, what can I tell you? These sights of my father and of my grandmother dying from starvation, in terrible hygienic conditions, is a picture which haunts me till this very day, you know. And this is over half a century ago, and it torments me in terrible nightmares to this very day.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection
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