Read reflections and testimonies written by Holocaust survivors in their own words.

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  • My Journey to America

    Oders of soot and salt water fill the air. It is November 1948. I am seven years old. My dziadzio (grandfather, in Polish) has sent me to America for a “better life” than the one we had in the Robert Tyler Displaced Persons Camp in Linz, Austria, where he, my babcia (grandmother, in Polish), and I had been living in one room in an unheated, wooden barrack without indoor plumbing or running water. By “better life,” he meant a life of safety, shelter, and plentiful food for me. 

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 12julie keeferdisplaced persons campsimmigration

  • Visit to L’viv: Janowska

    October 15, 2013, was the first time I had stepped on the soil of L’viv in 68 years. I was born here in 1941. I was hidden here—first in a bunker in the barn of my dziadzio (grandpa in Polish), next in a tunnel bunker in the Borszczowice Forest, along with 30 or so other Jews. Later, I was hidden in the home of the Schwarczynskis, a retired Polish Catholic engineer and his wife. I was the “niece” of their housekeeper, Lucia Nowicka (later she became my babcia, or grandmother).

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 11julie keeferjanowskajewish communities before the warmass atrocitiesremembrance

  • Rex—A Pet?

    It is early spring of 1944. I am three years old and living in the home of the Schwarczynskis at 78 St. Sophia Street in Lwów, Poland. My pretend “aunt,” Lucia Nowicka—the Polish Catholic woman who saved my life—is their live-in housekeeper. Rex is the Schwarczynskis’ dog. I cannot really call Rex a pet; he is a guard dog—a huge and ferocious German shepherd. His sharp white teeth and the drool from his mouth glisten in the sun. He barks at Nazis. Because the Nazi governor lives next door to the Schwarczynskis and has Nazi guards and soldiers lined up at his front door, Rex barks constantly. His bark is a deep-throated, menacing growl. Even the Schwarczynskis are intimidated by him. He is kept outdoors on a metal chain. His food and water are shoved to him with a long pole.

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 11julie keeferhidingpolandrescuer

  • Betrayed

    It is 1948. I am seven years old. The sun is shining, violets perfume the air, tall grasses sway in the breeze, and the sun warms my face. I am holding hands with Dziadzio and Babcia. I’m skipping. I am alternately smiling and giggling when I hold up my arms and force Dziadzio and Babcia to carry me. Dziadzio is home from the hospital in the Alps. I am happy. I feel safe. Suddenly, my eyes are drawn toward a high, metal fence like the ones used in prisons but without the studded, rolled wire on top.

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 10julie keeferlife after the holocaustimmigrationgrandfather

  • Refugees

    It is 1946 in the Robert Taylor Displaced Persons camp (DP camp, later known also as Delayed Pilgrims camp). I am five years old. I share one room in a wooden barracks with my Dziadzio and Babcia. It is winter. Snowflakes float gently to land on icy-cold mud. Babcia has bundled me in every warm garment she can locate, whether it fits or not. I wear two pairs of Dziadzio’s socks on my hands. They cover my arms to the shoulders as well as my fingers. I sport a pair of someone’s leggings rolled up several times. My feet are bundled in rags. A knitted wool cap kept in place by a heavy babushka completes this outfit.

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 10julie keeferdisplaced persons camplife after the holocaustparents

  • Where Are You, Tola?

    I last held you when you were six months old and I was almost three. It was March 1943, a time of war, Nazis, and unthinkable persecution of our people. To give you, my sister, a chance to live, Dziadzio changed your name from “Tola Weinstock,” a Jew, to “Antonina Nowicka,” a Catholic. You were fair-haired, with our father’s blue eyes, so you could easily pass as a Catholic Polish child. He took you to Dr. Groer’s Catholic orphanage and paid them to keep you safe.

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 10julie keeferlife after the holocaustfamilymemory

  • My Dziadzio’s Legs. Lager, Late 1947

    In late 1947, my grandpa (dziadzio), step-grandmother (babcia), and six-and-a-half-year-old I (Jula) lived in Tyler Displaced Persons camp (DP camp) in Wegscheid, near Linz, Austria. Tyler DP camp, also known as Wegscheid I DP camp, was the largest and most primitive DP camp in Austria. It was considered temporary shelter for people emigrating to other places. Each family was assigned one room in the camp (lager) composed of weathered, splintery, wooden barracks. On the right side of the lager and a bit away from the barracks were outdoor wooden shacks with toilets all attached in a row. Water was available from two outside spigots. We lived in barrack 13, near one of the spigots. I do not remember our room number nor the total number of rooms in our barrack.

    Tags:   echoes of memory, volume 10julie keeferdisplaced persons campfamilyrescue and resistance

  • In Hiding

    In the winter of 1943, Dziadziu learned that the Nazis were going to burn down the ghetto in Lvov where my mother, father, baby sister, and I were hiding.

    Tags:   julie keeferechoes of memory, volume 9denunciationhidingresistancegrandparentsmemory

  • Did He Know I Was Jewish?

    A gentle breeze rustles the leaves. It is sunny and warm. The sun hits my face with a warm glow. Babcia (“Grandma” in Polish) digs for a potato or carrot in a picked-over patch of land. I scamper after her. I catch up with her, pull at her skirt to get her to play with me. She sighs, wrinkles her forehead, but agrees to pick dandelions with me. We both pick dandelions. She sits with me and makes me a wreath of dandelions. I wear it proudly. The smell of violets, wet leaves, and damp earth fills the air. Babcia continues to look for food. I try to follow her but my eyelids start to droop, and I begin to feel heavy; my steps become more and more sluggish. I fall asleep. Babcia goes back to the house. She stands outside with Mrs. Schwarczinski.

    Tags:   julie keeferechoes of memory, volume 9grandparentsmemory