Hava Ben Zvi

“I hope that this story will help 
children learn about the Holocaust 
without too much pain and fear, 
and will inspire them to become 
part of a new generation, 
recognizing and rejecting 
prejudice of any kind before it 
erupts into another Holocaust.” 

- Hava Ben Zvi, from her book, Eva's Journey

Hava Ben Zvi was born in 1929 in Warsaw, Poland. Her family was secular, meaning that while they were Jewish, they were not particularly religious. Hava went by the Polish version of her name, Eva. During her early childhood Hava lived with her parents and her older brother Michael. During this time her Niania, or nanny, would often take her to church and teach her Catholic prayers. To this day, Hava believes that this, along with her blonde hair and blue eyes, helped to keep her alive during the Holocaust when the Nazis targeted any person whom they thought might be a Jew.

When Hava was seven years old the growing tension between her parents forced them to separate. Hava moved in with her father, “Tata,” whom she adored, while her brother Michael lived with their mother. While Hava was living with her father he worked as a businessman. Hava visited her mother and brother frequently until they moved to Palestine in 1939, shortly before the war. Hava remained in Warsaw with her father and developed an even stronger relationship with him. Unsure of how to raise a daughter, Tata treated Hava like an adult and therefore she matured at an early age.

The German army occupied Warsaw in October 1939 and soon the city became extremely dangerous for Jews. After a German soldier pointed a pistol at Hava’s father they decided to escape to Russian Occupied Eastern Poland. Despite leaving all of their possessions they managed to successfully reestablish their life until June of 1941 when the Germans once again invaded where they were living in the east. One day after the invasion, the Germans took Tata away for a day of compulsory labor. A few days later, after her father did not return, Hava found out that the men rounded up with her father were shot. Although Hava knew that her father was most likely dead, she did not allow herself to fully believe this until after the war. She felt that she had to remain hopeful that her father was alive or else she would not have the resolve to survive alone during the war.

The day Hava lost her father she accepted that “she was no longer a child.” Now she was alone and knew that she would need to rely on her maturity, instinct, and Aryan looks to survive the war. On the day the Germans rounded up and executed the entire Jewish population of her town, Hava was with her non-Jewish friend. Not wanting to endanger her friend, Hava left her town and traveled alone from village to village. Through luck and instinct she managed to arrive at an orphanage where she was taken in under the false pretense that she was an orphan from Moscow. Hava made friends, but was always careful to remain aloof and quiet about her questionable past. Towards the end of the war Hava was living with a farmer’s family who knew of her identity. Living in the village was a dangerous, painful and stressful period in her life, but she waited there until the end of the war. 

In May of 1945, when Hava was 16 years old, the war ended and she was free to escape from hiding. She returned to the town where she was separated from her father, collected a few valuables that were saved by friends, and continued to Lodz, a city in the center of Poland that housed a large Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust. Many Jewish survivors were gathering in Lodz and it was here that she learned about the other horrors of the war such as concentration camps and gas chambers.

Hava joined a group of survivors in Czestochwa, Poland who were studying Hebrew and preparing for life in Palestine. At this time the British Authorities were not allowing Jews to immigrate into Palestine and so with the help of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration Hava’s group illegally travelled there. Since Hava was one of the youngest people in the group she received a rare legal certificate of entry from the British. In Palestine Hava was unsuccessful in searching for her mother until an advertisement was placed in the newspaper. The day her mother saw the advertisement Hava was reunited with her mother and brother, whom she barely recognized. 

After a difficult initial adjustment Hava settled in Haifa, successfully completed high school, attended teachers college, and became a teacher, and directly witnessed the creation of the State of Israel. She married her husband, Ephraim, in 1950. Ephraim was born in Poland, but the Russians exiled his family to Siberia because his father was a former Polish army officer. This saved his life because he was never under German occupation. Hava and Ephraim had a son, Henry, in 1953. When Henry was four years old they moved to Northern California where Ephraim received his PhD in Chemistry at the University of California, Davis. The family then relocated to Southern California where Hava remains today. After becoming more comfortable with the English language Hava earned her Bachelor of Arts with Honors and her Masters Degree in Library Science. She worked as a librarian for over thirty years until retiring in 1997. Ephraim passed away in 2009.

Today Hava is still very active and always educating people about her experiences. She has written three books, Eva’s Journey, the story of her experience in the Holocaust and The Bride Who Argued with God, an anthology of Jewish folktales. Portraits in Literature: The Jews of Poland: An Anthology, will be published shortly and is dedicated to the memory of the Jews of Poland, and will be a tribute to the memory of her husband Ephraim Ben Zvi. She began writing after retirement because she “always had a story to tell, but never had the time.”

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Additional Resources

  • California Readers, a group that aims to “connect authors and artists with students and staff in the Los Angeles area,” interviewed Hava about her life and her work.
  • Hava has published several books, including Eva’s Journey and The Bride Who Argued with God. She is in the process of publishing a third book. Amazon.com gives a summary of her life and works, as well as praise and critiques of her work.
  • A preview of Eva’s Journey, Hava’s first book, which is written from the perspective of a child, can be previewed on Google Books.
  • Boston Bibliophile, a blog dedicated to fiction, graphic novels, and Jewish-interest fiction and non-fiction, spoke with Hava and reviewed her book, The Bride Who Argued With God.

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