October 6, 2007
We note with sadness the death of United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Survivor Volunteer Sheila Bernard (Sala/Sara Perec/Peretz), who passed away October 6, 2007. Sheila was an active member of the Museum’s Speakers Bureau and a dedicated weekly volunteer at the Donor/Membership Desk in the Museum’s Hall of Witness.
Sheila was the only child born to Bela and Isaac Peretz in Chełm, Poland. Chełm was a vibrant Jewish community. Before the war, her family owned a large building on Lubelska Street, and Sheila’s father managed a Singer Sewing Machine business. Sheila’s parents both had large, close-knit families, and her childhood was filled with love and joy.
When the ghetto was created in Chełm, Sheila’s family, her aunt and uncle, and their children were forced to move in together into one small apartment. In the ghetto, life was hard and food was scarce. Her father and two other men escaped to the Soviet Union, aware of rumors of the Nazis’ arrival and plans to kill Jewish men. After hearing that the Nazis’ plans were to kill all Jews, including the women and children, Sheila’s father attempted to return to Chełm, but both he and Sheila’s uncle were killed by the Germans.
Sheila’s mother was forced into slave labor in the ghetto, leaving Sheila and several other children in the care of her aunt. On multiple occasions, the Nazis raided the apartment where Sheila was hiding, killing many of the other children and Sheila’s aunt. Fearing that Sheila would be killed in future aktions (roundup of detainees or prisoners for execution), Sheila’s mother managed to bribe a guard and sneak Sheila out of the ghetto to hide in the grass of the factory where her mother worked. Bela was able to obtain help from a Polish policeman and family friend named Chizuk who had cancer and wished to do something nice before he died. He agreed to hide Sheila and her mother even though the rest of his family abandoned him out of fear that they would be caught and killed for helping the Jews. After spending two years hiding (first in a potato shed and later in a chicken coop), the war came to an end.
Chizuk died two weeks before the end of the war. Within a year of the war’s end Sheila’s mother died of a pulmonary embolism. An agency locating Jewish orphans found and took care of Sheila in Dornstat, Germany, for two years. In 1947, at age 11, Sheila immigrated to Israel where she married her husband and had a daughter before immigrating to the United States in 1963.
Picture of Sala Perec, a young Polish Jew, following the war. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Sheila Bernard
Portrait of Sala Perec in a stroller. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Sheila Bernard
Sala Perec poses with fellow soldiers in the Israeli army. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Sheila Bernard
Photograph of Sala Perec with a fellow soldier in the Israeli army. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Sheila Bernard
Sala Perec sits atop a pillar as her mother, Bela, stands to the right. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Sheila Bernard
Close-up portrait of young Jewish toddler, Sala Perec. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Sheila Bernard