Yudit speaks six languages – Polish, German, Russian, Ukrainian, Yiddish, and Hebrew. But when I asked her for her age, she didn’t respond in any of them. She simply smiled, and eventually replied, “I’m a Holocaust survivor, so I’m not exactly young.”
Seeing the sweaters she knits at Yad LaKashish, a Fellowship-supported artisan workshop in Israel, it’s clear she’s not exactly “old” yet either. When Yudit sat down to talk with me about her story of survival and about the difference this artists’ community has made in her life, I was struck by the fact that her intelligence and wit would match that of any young person’s, despite having her own childhood cruelly interrupted.
A Loving Sacrifice
Born in Galicia, which was once considered Poland and later became part of the Soviet Union in 1939, Yudit was the youngest of five children, and is the only living member of her family. Prior to WWII, Yudit had three sisters and a brother. Her father worked as a handyman, and they lived within a vibrant Jewish community in Galicia.
Sadly, Yudit’s childhood ended the day the Nazis occupied Galicia in 1941. Immediately, they began rounding up Jews for deportations. Those who were strong and considered fit to work were selected for forced labor camps, while those deemed weak, like the elderly and small children, would be sent straight to their death.
To save Yudit’s life, her mother and father had to make a choice. They decided that instead of delegating Yudit’s fate to the SS officers, their baby girl’s future and well-being would be placed in the hands of their righteous non-Jewish neighbors who agreed to hide her at their own risk.
Yudit’s parents made the right choice. Though they would never see her again, they ensured her survival.
A Secret Identity
“I lived in the attic of my neighbor’s house and studied the New Testament. This way, when the time came, and they allowed me to leave the house and mingle with other children, they [Nazis] would assume I was a Christian,” Yudit recalled.
Yudit’s new caretakers were correct in exercising caution, since the Nazis’ war against the Jews unveiled the dormant anti-Semitism that existed in towns across Europe – not just in Germany. Murdering Jews became a sport, and anyone caught hiding Jews would be killed.
Realizing the danger of hiding Yudit in the attic, her caretakers decided to send her to a Catholic monastery, where she took on a new identity as a Catholic girl.
“For years I went back and forth from the monastery to the family who hid me. At one point they tried to get me into an orphanage, but the orphanage rejected me because my nose looked too Jewish,” Yudit explained.
With the help of her selfless neighbors, her own courage and wit, and God’s blessing, Yudit survived the Holocaust. Her neighbors will forever be remembered in Jerusalem’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, as Righteous Gentiles.
A Clandestine Move
After the war, Yudit reunited with her sister, who was her only other family member to survive the Holocaust. Yudit lived with her sister and worked as a cashier for 16 years.
The area where Yudit and her sister lived became part of the Soviet Union after the war. Life there was hard. Hunger, lack of work, and lack of heating during the freezing winter months were but a few of the problems, especially for Jews. The Jews had to conceal any sympathy they might have felt for Israel, since being labeled a Zionist was a serious crime.
But Yudit desperately wanted to start a new life, and dreamed about moving to Israel. Yudit eventually discovered that she had cousins in Tel Aviv, and through some very intricately planned maneuvers, she traveled to Poland, and from there to Israel, where she was home at last.
Yudit lived a full life in the Holy Land. She was married, but her husband passed away in 2000. “I started coming to The Fellowship’s Yad LaKashish after my husband passed away,” Yudit explained. This project allows the elderly in Israel to stay engaged by teaching them how to make handcrafted items to sell to the community. But, more importantly, the program provides daily hot meals and a small stipend for the crafts made, and provides a rich community and lifeline of support to Israel’s poor, elderly immigrant population. “This is my home, and the people I see here every day are my family.”
Before ending our conversation, Yudit asked me to thank our donors, and to let them know what an incredible difference their donations are making in the lives of so many of Jerusalem’s elders, especially those who have already suffered too much.
-by Amichai Farkas, a Fellowship staff writer in Israel
This Saturday, January 27, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Fellowship is committed to aiding Holocaust survivors in need all around the world every day. Learn how you can join our effort today.