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My Sister Irena

By Marcel Drimer

My sister, Irena, was born on the 4th of July 1936. As a child she was blond and blue-eyed. Her nickname is Mila, which in Polish means nice. Mila and I had an idyllic childhood, playing together at the grounds of the lumber factory where my father worked.

In August of 1942 Mila and I, and our parents, lived in an apartment in Drohobycz. After a pogrom, many relatives came to live with us. Because of this overcrowding, my nanny, named Jancia, took me to her house. Mila missed me and mother agreed to take her to Jancia’s house to join me. While we were there, a pogrom started. Jancia’s husband thought that our presence there was too dangerous and asked us to hide in the neighboring wheat fields. We left the house and lay down on the wet ground.

We heard Germans shouting and people praying for mercy and crying. As an adult, Mila called that the “concert of death.”

When the pogrom ended, we started back to Jancia’s house. While crossing the country road, a German soldier with a dog came toward us. He looked at us but kept going. The blond hair and blue eyes of my mother and Mila saved us.

When we returned to our apartment the door was open and all the relatives were gone. They were taken to Belzec killing center and murdered there. It seems that Mila's desire to be with me saved our lives.

After the liquidation of the ghetto, Father decided that Mila and my mother would have the best chance of survival by hiding because of their “Aryan” looks. He contacted Mrs. Sawinska, who knew our family, and she agreed to hide Mila and my mother. As a circumcised boy, I was supposed to stay with my father. Luckily, after hearing my pleas and cries, she decided to take me in as well, and we spent the rest of the time at the Sawinskis’ farm.

Our stay at the farm was dangerous, and the conditions were terrible, especially the lack of food. When Mila looked outside from the attic seeing chickens she said: "How I would like to be a chicken to be able to run freely.” She was often bleeding from her nose, and at such times we were worried if she was going to survive and where we would bury her.

The Sawinskis saved our family and nine other Jews and were recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations.”

After the war our family moved to Wałbrzych, Lower Silesia, in Poland, and after graduating with honors from the local high school, Mila followed me to the Wrocław Polytechnic. As one of a few women, she graduated with a master's degree in civil engineering.

After marrying a fellow student, a specialist in entomology, Mila emigrated to Israel, where they both had very successful careers. They have two children and six grandchildren who are benefitting from Mila’s wisdom. Now retired, Mila spends a lot of time educating young Israelis about the Holocaust, based on her experiences. She's a strong, caring woman, beloved by all who know her. Even though we live in different countries we keep in touch every week by Zoom. I love and respect her very much.


Marcel playing with his sister, Irena, on the grounds of the lumber mill, where his father was an accountant. —United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

© 2022, Marcel Drimer. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.