A million and a half children were killed. She was the only one who survived in her family. She was between 3 ½ and 9 ½ during the Holocaust. Most children who survived, did so because of living in Christian camps. She was liberated from Bergen-Beltzen. Her story is different because every time she lost a mother, she gained another. She wrote the book, A Daughter of Many Mothers. She had parents, aunts, and uncles, and grandparents. She was adopted and a good education. She was married to her husband for 60 years until he passed away. He would say, “I was spared for him”.
She was born in Poland in the first ghetto in the city of Piotrków. She went back there in 1989. The Nazi’s came in early on and took the able body people including her father to work in a glass factory, at a smaller ghetto.
One night there was banging on her door from German soldiers telling her to leave and get out. She had to pack whatever she could immediately and there was chaos. Everyone got out into the square in the city center. 2,000 people were gathered. They were herded into the synagogue. There are no Jews left today in the city and the synagogue has been turned into a library. If you couldn’t fit into the synagogue, they took the people outside to dig ditches in the forest, which would be their own graves as they were shot. People were being shot in the synagogue and there was mass confusion. She was 6 at the time of this. A Polish man at the back door told her to “run”. She was with her mother, and two brothers. She ran out and let go of her mother’s hand. She can’t remember what her mother looked like. She wonders what was her mother thinking to let her daughter leave her hand. Everyone left at the synagogue was taken to Triblinka and killed at the gas chamber. Rena says she hopes her mother is looking down on her today to see the happy life she has. She is also sure Hitler is “down there somewhere, and he has to look up”. Any genocide was bad. The man who told her to run, scooped her up and took her to her father. She became a “boy” in order to blend in as girls we seen as useless. The factory work was hard and dangerous. There were dogs that they’d send out on the people in the factory for fun. If the dog bit someone’s arm, they couldn’t work, rendering them useless. She still has a fear of those dogs. In 1944 the Allies were getting closer. The Germans were sending people out to cattle cars. There were 80-100 people into each car. There was nothing to eat or drink. There was one pale to go to the bathroom, where you’d have to go in front of everyone. The smell and stench was everywhere. They used the snow after they got out to eat and drink. They had to divide people with women on one side and men on the other side. The issue being is that she was dressed as a boy at the time and people had to disrobe, which would reveal her identity. Her father gave to a teacher, and promised he’d meet back with her later. He never did as she never saw him again, but knows he was sent to Buchenwald. That’s all she knows about him. As they were walking on the snow with no shoes, if you stopped to take a rest, you would be shot. There was a trail of bodies. As they made there way to Bergen-Belsen, she had her pictures in her hands. A soldier took her pictures and tore them up. He had no idea what those pictures meant to her, as she has no idea who they are or what they looked like. Everyday the most important thing was good. They had horrible soup everyday. One day, an announcement came saying “We are the British army, you are free, you can do what you want”.
The British had to build huge graves to bury the dead. She couldn’t do anything because she had Typhus. The British burned down the barracks because they were so infested. 14,000 people died after the war as people weren’t able to recover or recuperate. They brought her to a make-shift hospital. She was sent to neutral Sweden. A young Christian couple gave her sweets and cookies in Sweden and they asked if she would like to live with them. She ends up not living with them because Jewish people told her she should go to Palestine (Israel) in a displaced persons camp. She met a new “mother”. Israel is so important to Jews, because it is a place for Jews to call home. The mother told her she was going to the United States with this “new” family. In the US, her “new mother” had died, but no one explained what was going on. She was confused because one person died and everyone made a fuss, yet she thought in the Holocaust so many people died and no one made it a big deal. At the funeral, she was the only one who didn’t cry. Now that the mother was gone, the family didn’t want her. They knew another Jewish family that took her in.
She believes strongly in God, but doesn’t understand how God could have let this happen.
Later on that day she invited all 35 of us to her wonderful house. The love letters her husband would write to her were still on display.