Born December 12, 1932, in Krakow, Poland
Halina (Litman) Yasharoff Peabody was born to a liberal Jewish family in Krakow, Poland. Her father, Izak Litman, was a dentist and her mother, Olga Schreiber, was a champion swimmer.
The Soviet Union Invades Poland
When the Soviet Union invaded Poland in fall 1939, Halina, her parents, and her younger sister, Ewa, were living in Zaleszczyki in Tarnopol Province (today, Zaleshchitskiy, Ternopil’ Oblast, Ukraine), which came under Soviet occupation. Fearing conscription into the Soviet army, Izak crossed the open border into Romania. When he tried to return to his family, Soviet officials detained him, accusing him of espionage. Izak was sentenced to 20 years hard labor and deported to Siberia.
Germany Invades the Soviet Union
In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union in violation of the German-Soviet Pact and conquered the part of Poland previously occupied by the Soviets, including Zaleszczyki. The family lost all contact with Izak.
Halina was nine years old when the Germans carried out their first aktion against Jewish civilians in her town. The Germans selected a group of young Jews for the ostensible purpose of binding trees with burlap for the winter’s severe weather. In fact, the Germans forced the group to dig a communal grave, strip off all their clothing, and lie over the grave on planks of wood. Then the Germans shot them, and their bodies fell into the pit. One of the youths survived; the Germans had missed him and he was able to dig himself out of the grave after they left. He returned to town and reported what he had experienced.
Halina’s Mother Secures False ID Papers
Following subsequent similar events, German authorities moved the remaining Jewish community in and around Zaleszczyki to Tluste (in Galicia District, Government General), which eventually became a ghetto. Realizing the dangers of their situation, Halina’s mother bought false documents from a Catholic priest that identified her and her daughters as non-Jews, and with the new documents they boarded a train to Jaroslaw, Poland. A man on the train pressured Olga into admitting they were Jewish and said he would have to deliver them to the Gestapo when they reached Jaroslaw. On the way to the Gestapo headquarters, Olga persuaded the man to let them go.
Olga, Halina, and Ewa lived as Catholics in Jaroslaw with a woman who took in boarders, but they constantly feared being exposed. Olga found a job in a German military kitchen in order to obtain a German identification card, which offered greater protection. Shortly before the Soviets liberated Jaroslaw, a bomb fell on the house where they were staying, killing their landlady and permanently injuring Halina’s hand.
Soviet forces liberated Jaroslaw in July 1944. According to what Halina was told, Izak managed to communicate through the International Red Cross that he had escaped from prison and joined the Polish army of General Wladyslaw Anders. He had left the Soviet Union with the Anders army and was now safe with his sister in Palestine (now Israel). This information was transmitted to Olga by friends from the ghetto.
After liberation Olga placed radio announcements in hopes of finding Izak. A friend of Izak’s heard the announcement and the family was reunited. They settled in London, England. In the 1953 and 1957 Maccabiah Games in Israel, Halina represented England in table tennis. She immigrated to the United States in 1968 and today volunteers at the Museum.