November 16, 2022
By Halina Peabody
Thank you for the opportunity to speak today to you, my colleagues, teachers, leaders, historians, and all who work here. When I was asked to speak, I didn’t think I had anything to say, but then I realized that this is my golden opportunity to thank you all here at the Museum, who educated me, befriended me, and helped me to face the terrible experience I went through during World War II and learn how to remember and honor those millions we lost.
Over 20 years ago, I met another Holocaust survivor in Washington and then joined a whole group of survivors, and we gathered once a month and shared our stories. Martin Goldman, who was then in charge of the survivors who volunteer at the United States Holocaust Museum, visited our group and suggested we should join the Museum, attend the monthly meetings, and volunteer to work here. He also suggested that, if we had any items connected with our war experiences, the Museum would be a good place to donate them. I think all of us joined and still work here.
I worked in Martin’s office and also attended monthly meetings. During the lunch hour one of us usually spoke to the public and shared our story. But not everybody did, and I certainly didn’t because I had never spoken in public before. But I would sneak in to hear other peoples’ stories, and that was the beginning of my starting to learn more about what had happened to other survivors.
In my case, friends helped my mother purchase false identity papers for my sister and me and the three of us escaped from the ghetto in Tłuste, Poland, under new identities as Catholics. I was ten years oId and became my mother’s lieutenant and helper. My sister was four years old. First, I had to learn my new identity details: my new name was Alina Litynska, new place of birth, new grandparents, etc. After we arrived in Jarosław, my mother had to find jobs to pay for our keep and I had to figure out how to behave in church and school. We were completely cut off from anybody who knew who we were for the rest of the war.
I didn’t have much preparation for that new life as a Catholic but I knew it was very important to attend church on Sundays, and cross myself after dipping my fingers in “holy” water when entering and leaving. In school, the priest handed us a book called the catechism, to help with studying Catholicism, which helped me a lot. I had an advantage because my father had taught me to read before the war in preparation for attending kindergarten, so I was able to read the whole book quickly to learn as much as I could. I knew I was Jewish, though we were not observant, and before World War II I was told that I would also be attending Sunday school to learn Hebrew.
When I joined the Museum my story was recorded and I was asked a few times to speak publicly, but I didn’t think I could. But, finally, with great kindness and help from everyone, I did. I was very anxious and scared and I think interviewer Bill Benson was the one who managed to get me through it. I have since become more relaxed and learned so much more. My teachers are all here and I am taking this opportunity to acknowledge and thank you all from the bottom of my heart!
© 2022, Halina Peabody. 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.
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