Oral History

Sophie Turner-Zaretsky describes moving to London after liberation and discovering her Jewish heritage

Sophie was born Selma Schwarzwald to parents Daniel and Laura in the industrial city of Lvov, two years before Germany invaded Poland. Daniel was a successful businessman who exported timber and Laura had studied economics. The Germans occupied Lvov in 1941. After her father's disappearance on her fifth birthday in 1941, Sophie and her mother procured false names and papers and moved to a small town called Busko-Zdroj. They became practicing Catholics to hide their identities. Sophie gradually forgot that she was Jewish. It was not until after their liberation and move to London that Sophie learned the truth about her past.


Well we moved to London in 1948 from Poland. We arrived in February. And at that time I was still under the impression that I was Christian, that I was Catholic. And I started corresponding with my friends, I missed my friends, you know the girlfriends in Busko. And I think it must have been Passover. We were staying with relatives and they weren't particularly observant but they did observe the major holidays and Passover was a special holiday and we were living with my mother's uncle and aunt and he conducted the Seder. He had a marvelous voice and it was really quite a performance. So I think it must have been at that time...some...that it became important to tell me that I was Jewish. And my mother I think consulted with the people at the school. I started school right away. I didn't know any English, but they put me in the class and they put a little English girl in charge of me. Her name was Eleanor Smith, very nice little girl, and, you know I just cried because I didn't even know how, what to ask or anything. In any case, I learned very fast, I mean there was no going back. So they suggested that I should know that I'm Jewish. So my mother told me that I'm Jewish but I don't remember. I remember where was it. It was in my aunt and uncle's apartment, but I don't remember the actual, I don't actually remember the actual telling of it, although my aunt has refreshed my memory about it. And so I think that I'm beginning to remember a little bit but in any case I had a nervous breakdown. And apparently I was just uncontrollably upset about it because I felt that everything that had happened to us, this was the last thing that I needed. Here I was in a foreign country. I didn't know the language. I didn't have friends. The relatives we lived with were elderly and rather stern and very unhappy. They'd had their own tragedies and now they were stuck with my mother and me on top of it. Money was tight and so we were living in these circumstances and to find this out, I just, just couldn't take it. I just said, "No, this can't be." And finally I sort of came out of it. And there was no help. There was no support groups. There was no...nobody was interested. Nobody came forward. We didn't even know and if we asked and nobody really believed. And so we didn't talk. You really had to do everything on your own. And so I don't know how, but somehow, my mother, my aunt and myself, we worked this through because I seemed to be able to get myself together and go ahead. And so she, she does say that it was a terrible thing, a terrible scene.


  • US Holocaust Memorial Museum

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