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Helena Manaster

Lesko, Poland

Helena was the eighth of 10 children born to a Jewish family in the town of Lesko. Her father was a landowner. When Helena was a young girl the family moved to nearby Orelec, where they had a summer home. As there were no schools in Orelec, Helena and her siblings continued attending school in Lesko. Later, Helena traveled three hours by train daily to attend the nearest high school, which was in Przemysl.

1933-39: The German army invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. By the beginning of October the Soviets had taken over. Hitler and Stalin divided Poland [the German-Soviet Pact] between them and Orelec was on the Soviet side. The Soviets forced us out of our house, allowing the local inhabitants to take whatever they wanted. Heartbroken, penniless and homeless, my family left Orelec. We went to Lvov.

1940-44: After Germany invaded the USSR, my new husband and I, posing as Polish refugees, made our way to Cracow [Krakow]. There, pregnant, I was placed in a Catholic monastery. When I was in labor at a hospital, a monastery official went for a midwife. As it was past curfew, the Gestapo stopped them as they returned. Suspicious, they followed them back to the delivery floor. A nurse came: "The Gestapo's outside! They must see you!" Bent with labor pains, I dragged myself out, sure I'd be killed. Seeing I was really pregnant, they left.

Fleeing the monastery in 1944, Helena and her son survived in Cracow until it was liberated in January 1945. She lived in Poland until 1968, and then moved to the United States.

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