Describe your experiences that led up to your placement in the displaced people's camps.
Well, we-- when we left our home, we went to a--
Why don't you start when you left the attic.
Can you tell me about that first moment that you left the attic?
We walked out of the attic, and I remember that very clearly, the light just hitting my eyes. And I remember the adults trying to stretch and to just take in the outdoors and breathing deeply. And--
How many were left?
There were 12 left. And everybody was, needless to say, very disoriented, like which way do we go? And as they're trying to get their bearings, a soldier was coming towards us. And because we were still hearing gunshots in the distance and noises of war, we realized that the war wasn't quite over and that we were still in danger. And the soldier coming towards us was very scary.
But he quickly announced that he was a Russian soldier, and he was also a Jew. And he was going to help us, to guide us to our home. And that was like a messenger from God, and he helped get us to the house. It was by foot.
So you went back home.
So we went back home, and the house was unrecognizable. It wasn't like our house. It was trashed, and there was no furniture. And my extended family, my aunt and uncle and their children, went to their house which was about a mile away from our house. And we went into the house and didn't know exactly how to settle in an empty house. We slept on the floors, and this was-- went on for-- you remember how--
Couple of months.
A couple of months, and then one night somebody knocked on our door. It was a Polish man warning us that we were going to be killed if we don't leave our house. It was-- that the Poles were going to kill us if we didn't leave our house. So we left, and we went to--
Jaszów, a place called Jaszów. There was another town, a city, and there we got information. There was a makeshift-- it wasn't really a camp. It was like a building set up for people like us, displaced people. And there was information where people can go and where there were DP camps set up. And there were big army trucks that took us from place to place.
We went through Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and in freezing weather, we didn't really have the clothes, but there was some clothes given to us. And eventually, we made our way from Italy-- from Austria over the Alps into Italy with the help of a guide or two.
When you first arrived at the DP camps, describe your experiences and how they affected you.
Well, it depends where. Some were just makeshift barracks like in Austria, and others were buildings where they set up cots, and there was food provided. I remember having my first hot dog, Jell-O, which I couldn't keep down because I wasn't used to eating food.
What was the first food you had after you left?
The first food was I think soup, potato soup, some kind of potato soup. That was at home and cottage cheese, soft, gentle food. But in Jaszów, as I said, there were hot dogs and Jell-O. That stands out in my mind.
How did you feel when you discovered that you had just survived the most horrible event in human history when so many others did not?
Well, I had different feelings as a child than I do as an adult because you don't let that kind of information in all at once. You become aware of it as time goes by, as your nervous system can handle. Nature had ways of protecting us that way. And it was very traumatic and still is traumatic. And eventually I learned what some of those difficult, painful, emotional feelings were, and there was-- it's survivor's guilt. There's joy about surviving, and then there's the other.
What feelings did you have when your relatives first greeted you upon your arrival in the US?
I really didn't know what to feel. It was excitement but yet everything was so strange. And it was hard to know what to feel. How was I going to adjust? And I don't speak the language and all. It was just too much to take in all at once. So--
Were you with your family at this point?
I was with my family at this point and my uncles who had migrated to America before we did, two years before. My father always made sure that they went first so they got visas. It took us a little longer because I was sick, and you couldn't enter any foreign country unless you're perfectly well. So we had to wait a little longer. That's why it took us almost five years.
But you were with your father, and who else?
And my stepmother. My father married in Italy. He married a survivor.
How did it feel to first attend a public school?
Scary, very scary. I was told that-- I was given a whole battery of tests, psychological tests, and I remember my-- the principal of the school, it was PS 82 in the Bronx. And she was this big woman with wiry gray hair, and she said via translator that they're going to put me in my appropriate grade, seventh grade, even though I had never been to school before. And if I don't keep up, I'll be put back into first grade. And I didn't like hearing that, and so I managed to graduate with my class.
And it was very difficult. It's all like a dream. It's like you just do it. You don't think about it. You just do it, and I was lucky to have friends. And I learned English, and within two months I spoke English. It was sink or swim, and I chose to swim.
Did you get some tutorial help at home?
No. No tutorial help. Sometimes my friends would help me, but no. There was-- we couldn't afford any of that.
And what languages did you speak before this?
I spoke-- I learned some Italian while I was in the hospital in Italy, but at home we spoke Yiddish.
Do you still remember it?
Yiddish? Yeah. And some Hebrew.
Why did your family's business never work out? I was reading about--
Which business? I mean, where was-- in the United States?
When my father really was not-- didn't go into business. My father had been a very resourceful person, and obviously, he survived a lot. And before the war, he was successful with what he did, and after the war in the camps, he was respected and looked up to by everybody.
But once he came to the United States, something happened. He felt lost, and it was a very difficult adjustment for him. Didn't know the language and didn't have any money. Whatever resources we had in Poland went to Mr. Grajolski, and the rest we used to get by along the way.
So he worked in sweatshops.
He worked in sweatshops, and then his brother, who had come to the United States a couple of years earlier, lived in Chicago. Eventually we left New York after two years there. I had to leave my friends again and move to Chicago, and my uncle had told them that they'll go into business.
My uncle was in the grocery business. That didn't work out because my father was religious. He wasn't going to work on Jewish holidays or Shabbat, and so my uncle decided against going and taking my father in the business. And after that, my father just kind of diminished slowly, his health diminished, but he did work in sweatshops.
How did these traumatic experiences affect your life after the Holocaust?
It was sad. It was very sad for me to watch my father kind of fall apart, the father who I had looked up to and was so proud of. And it was-- my heart always ached for him.
What people in your life here in the US have helped you get through this ordeal?
What people in my life in the US helped-- I had to kind of search out help and help myself a lot. It wasn't really anybody who took me by the hand or my family and said, I'm here for you. I'm going to help you deal with this. I just had to do it.
I knew I had to do it myself, and when I graduated from high school in Chicago, I was-- I wasn't even-- I was 17 still when I graduated from high school. And I went into a severe depression which was so foreign. I didn't know what I was feeling. All I knew was that I was very depressed, not even knowing what the depressed meant. I knew that something was wrong.
And I found a therapist, a psychiatrist, in Chicago. I got a job to pay for my therapy and thus began a journey of climbing out of my depression. And I worked, and then I met my husband, and we were married. I wasn't even quite 19 when I got married, and the 50-- we've been married for 52 years, had three children. Now I have seven grandchildren, and things are looking up.
Are there any people in your life who you would call an upstander, someone who saw what was going on, stood up, and did something about it?
Well, my father was really an upstander. I mean, he was instrumental in helping everybody to get to Mr. Grajolski's house, and he dealt with Mr. Grajolski, and he was always very strong. And afterwards in the camps, he provided. He managed to get a job here and there, and he was a strong person.
And then we thought we'd come to the United States and all our problems would be over. My father would flourish again. It didn't happen that way, but his children picked up where he left off. And I have a sister who lives in Thousand Oaks, and she is well and--