Leaving Home | Facing History & Ourselves

Leaving Home

Explore the decision of Vitka Kempner, then a 19-year-old Jewish teenager from Poland, to leave her family and flee when the German army invaded in 1939.
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English — US


  • History
  • The Holocaust
  • Resistance

Vitka Kempner was 19 years old when she made the choice to resist the Nazis. She fled to the city of Vilna and then was sent to the Vilna Ghetto, where she joined other youth to become a founding member of the United Partisan Organization (FPO). 

In an interview for the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, she describes her decision to leave her hometown of Kalisz, Poland.

In the year [19]39, since it was so close to the border, the war began in September, first of September, and on the third of September the German army was in Kalisz. And immediately the expulsions began. And when I saw . . . the Germans collect the Jews in some monastery, empty, and I . . . heard the screams, the way they related, the beatings they [gave] the Jews, I told my parents, I am not staying; I am running away with my friends. They argued with me at first; they did not agree and said, You are so spoiled, how are you going to get along being alone, how can you succeed? And they were very much against it. Then, in ’39, nobody imagined that this would be our last meeting. When I left my parents I didn’t think for a minute that I would not see them anymore. 

So, when I fled from my parents they did not imagine, and I did not imagine, that we would not see each other again. They were basically worried in the material sense: what I would do, how I would get along, how I would travel. They were afraid of what was going to happen to me. And I fled, and my brother also fled. We arrived at Lodz; there was my grandfather, and he would not let my brother go: ‘Children like that don’t run away from their parents.’ And they returned him. So [my brother], too, ran away. But [my grandfather] couldn’t tell me what to do. I was 19 years old. 1


  • 1© Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. All Rights Reserved.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History & Ourselves, "Leaving Home," last updated May 12, 2020.

This reading contains text not authored by Facing History & Ourselves. See footnotes for source information.

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