How does one place a value on a lost childhood?
Irene was only 12 years old and living in Warsaw, Poland, when war broke out. Jews faced severe persecution from the outset. At the very least, it meant no more school and having to wear armbands so that everyone could clearly identify her and her family, along with the rest of the Jewish community, as targets.
In short order, the harassment was further formalized. The Jewish ghetto was sealed off from the city. Apartments and rooms meant for little more than one person or one family found several families occupying them. Many succumbed to disease brought on by the overcrowding and poor sanitary conditions. Others were killed just because of their prominence or position in the community.
Irene and her family were spared a little of the horror – they were able to bribe a factory manager into giving them work for a short while. Ultimately, they had to go into hiding, changing locations several times in eighteen months in order to avoid detection. Irene was then smuggled out of the ghetto. Survival meant staying ahead of the authorities as best possible and bribes, while funds lasted, to those who ultimately betrayed them anyway.
Through a miracle, Irene was reunited with her parents, who were also able to escape from the ghetto. Unfortunately, Irene’s mother was subsequently captured and executed. So were her grandparents. The remnants of her family continued to hide as the Germans fought against the advancing Soviet army. Some of her distinct memories of this period consist of being lowered into a well to retrieve water – she was the smallest of the family and the only one who could get through the narrow opening.
These are childhood memories that are very different than those most of us have. Since its founding in 1974, part of Bet Tzedek’s mission has been to assist survivors like Irene to access reparations from Germany and other European countries that, at least in some small way, help bring closure and a measure of financial security to those who have suffered so much.
Join us in this mission. Click here to make a contribution to Bet Tzedek.