Halina Litman Yasharoff Peabody was born on December 12, 1932 to a liberal Jewish family in Krakow, Poland. Her father, Izak Litman, was a dentist and her mother, Olga Schreiber, was a champion swimmer.
When the Soviet Union invaded Poland in fall 1939 after a non-aggression pact was signed with Germany giving the Soviets a piece of Eastern Poland, Halina’s hometown of Zaleszczyki (today, Zalishchyky, Ukraine) came under Soviet occupation. Fearing conscription into the Soviet army, Izak crossed the open border into Romania. When he tried to return to his family, Soviet officials detained him, accusing him of espionage. Izak was sentenced to 20 years hard labor and deported to Siberia. In 1941, Germany occupied all of Poland. The family lost all contact with Izak while under German occupation.
Halina was about nine years old when the Nazis carried out their first Aktion against Jewish civilians in her town. Under the guise of needing to bind young trees with burlap for the winter, the Nazis took a group of Jews into the forest outside the town. Upon arrival, they were ordered to strip down and were executed by firing squad. One young man was able to escape after a bullet missed his heart, only wounding him. He was able to dig himself out of the pit and return to town to report on what happened. The Jewish community, including Halina’s mother, scrambled to find hiding places, realizing what the future might hold.
In September of 1942, Nazi authorities moved the remaining Jewish community in and around Zaleszczyki to Tłuste, which eventually became a ghetto. Realizing the danger of their situation, Halina’s mother bought false documents from a Catholic priest that identified her and her daughters as non-Jews. With the new documents, they boarded a train to Jarosław, a town further west in German-occupied Poland. A man on the train pressured Olga into admitting they were Jewish and threatened to hand them over to the Gestapo when they reached Jarosław. On the way to the Gestapo headquarters, Olga pleaded with the man to let them go. He took all their possessions but relented and let Halina, her mother and sister go.
Constantly fearing exposure, Olga, Halina, and Ewa lived as Catholics in Jarosław with a woman who took in boarders. Olga found a job in a Nazi military kitchen in order to obtain a German identification card, which offered greater protection. Shortly before the Soviets liberated Halina's family in Jarosław, a bomb fell on the house where they were staying, killing their landlady and permanently injuring Halina’s hand.
Soviet forces drove the Germans out of Jarosław in July 1944. Izak managed to communicate through the International Red Cross that he had left the Soviet Union with the Anders army and was now safe with his sister in Palestine (now Israel). This information was transmitted to Olga by friends from the ghetto.
After liberation, Olga placed radio announcements in hopes of finding Izak. A friend of Izak’s heard the announcement and the family was reunited. They settled in London, England in 1946. In the 1953 and 1957 Maccabiah Games in Israel, Halina represented England in table tennis. She immigrated to the United States in 1968 and today volunteers at the Museum.