Leah Hammerstein Silverstein
Born: 1924, Praga, Poland
Describes the emotions she felt upon arrival in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem after the war [Interview: 1996]
I was so happy to be there, you know, finally the dream came true, because, you know, we were dreaming about having a homeland of our own. And finally I came, you know, I remember walking in the streets of Tel Aviv and seeing inscriptions in the Hebrew language. My goodness, it, it was like a, like a dream. This, and, and it was Hanukkah time by the time I came to Jerusalem and, uh, in the, uh, show windows of the stores there were Hanukkiot, you know, the candelabras for Hanukkah with candles, and, you know, all of a sudden the memories from my childhood, from my grandmother, everything came back to me because during the five years of the war there was no Jewish holidays for me. So all of a sudden, you know, it was coming back, and I, I had to, to change my, my image again, you know. First I had to change from being a Jewish girl to a Polish girl. Now I had to, to, to crawl out from the Polish skin and crawl back into my Jewish skin. These are psychological processes which are not easy.
Leah grew up in Praga, a suburb of Warsaw, Poland. She was active in the Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir Zionist youth movement. Germany invaded Poland in September 1939. Jews were forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto, which the Germans sealed off in November 1940. In the ghetto, Leah lived with a group of Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir members. In September 1941, she and other members of the youth group escaped from the ghetto to a Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa'ir farm in Zarki, near Czestochowa, Poland. In May 1942, Leah became a courier for the underground, using false Polish papers and traveling between the Krakow ghetto and the nearby Plaszow camp. As conditions worsened, she escaped to Tarnow, but soon decided to return to Krakow. Leah also posed as a non-Jewish Pole in Czestochowa and Warsaw, and was a courier for the Jewish National Committee and the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB). She fought with a Jewish unit in the Armia Ludowa (People's Army) during the Warsaw Polish uprising in 1944. Leah was liberated by Soviet forces. After the war she helped people emigrate from Poland, then moved to Israel herself before settling in the United States.
US Holocaust Memorial Museum - Collections