Chaja was the eldest of four children born to a middle-class Jewish family in the northeastern Polish town of Iwie. Her father earned his living as a blacksmith. Chaja first went to a private Jewish school that taught both religious and secular subjects; in the fourth grade she transferred to a public school, and also attended Hebrew school in the afternoon.
1933-39: I belonged to one of the Zionist youth organizations in Iwie. We heard lectures, often on Palestine [Yishuv], and had many sporting activities. In 1937 I graduated from high school and began learning to be a dressmaker. After the Soviets seized our region of Poland in 1939, I entered the nursing school in Slonim. Before the Soviet takeover, I couldn't have afforded such an education, but higher education became subsidized by the state.
1940-42: After Germany invaded the Soviet Union, I returned to Iwie. In 1942 a partisan group that included my friend Ruben helped me escape from Iwie's ghetto. I began working in a partisan hospital in the woods--a camouflaged cavern in the earth. We "appropriated" medical supplies from captured German stores, and performed surgeries by grease lamps. Instruments were sterilized by boiling. We used liquor as an anesthetic and salt to clean wounds. When we couldn't find a surgical saw for amputations we used a carpenter's saw.
Chaja and Ruben were married in 1942 while with the partisans. They were liberated in July 1944, and emigrated to the United States in 1949.