Session 1


I heard many voices as I reached the top of the stairway to the second floor of the Hillel building. I entered the small dining room and saw college students and elderly people deeply engaged in conversation; definitely not a scene one would normally expect to encounter on a college campus. I was a little uncertain of how I would approach them. Yet MK immediately took my hand as I walked into the crowded room, sat me down at a table with two other students, and began to tell me the story of her life. This was no typical tale, however. MK grew up Jewish in Lotch, Poland in the 1920s. MK is a survivor of the Holocaust, and this her amazing story of strength and resilience, as told to me in four lunchtime sessions at Hillel at UCLA.

MK grew up comfortably. Her dad was a business man dealing in building materials, and her mom stayed at home to take care of her and her brother. They had a live-in maid, but were not very wealthy. One day when she was six years old, a Gentile girl she often played with suddenly stopped playing with her. When MK asked her why, the girl replied that she did not want to be around a “dirty Jew.” This is the earliest memory MK has of being “different” from the others, and it would shape her conscience for the rest of her life.

Although she was Polish in national origin, MK identified herself as first and foremost a Jew. She attended a private Jewish school instructed in Polish. Looking back, MK wishes she had become fluent in Yiddish in order to be able to enjoy the beautiful poetry and other written forms of art in Yiddish. MK was always surrounded by Gentile people growing up in Poland. She never hid the fact that she was Jewish, yet she also could not fathom the idea that the religion she was raised in and held so dearly would soon be the cause for such pain later. MK said that she lived generally just as teenagers now do, with many of the same feelings and hopes. She has a granddaughter who is seventeen, and can see that they have the “same heart, the same brain.” She and her friends enjoyed many activities, and the local ice cream parlor was a favorite hangout spot of theirs.

MK graduated from high school in 1938. During that year, she recalls the atmosphere in her town as being tense. People could sense that war was coming. MK was planning to go to college abroad, as many students of the time who could afford it would travel to other countries to complete their higher education. These hopes, and any semblance of a normal life, were dashed by the Nazi invasion in September of 1939.

MK firmly maintains that despite the Nazis’ attempts at dehumanizing the Jews, despite their stripping her family of a home, of all their material possessions, and brutally attacked their hopes, MK maintained that they “couldn’t take away our humanity.” MK speaks Polish, English, Hebrew (which she learned while living in Israel later in her life), and some Yiddish.