Matthew Erlich’s mother, Felicia Lewkowicz, was born in Krakow, Poland in 1923. Felicia was one of seven children, four girls and three boys.
On March 3, 1941, the Nazis established the Krakow ghetto and Jews were required to wear armbands. Felicia and one brother were sent by the Nazis to the Krakow ghetto while her mother and other siblings were sent to Tarnow, 70 miles from Krakow. Conditions in the ghetto were terrible, with very little food and illness and diseases running rampant. Luckily, Felicia was able to get work outside the ghetto, cleaning the offices of German officers. One day, she did not return to the ghetto, escaping onto a train which would take her to Vienna, Austria. On the way, she stopped in Tarnow where she saw her family for the last time.
In Vienna, Felicia was able to acquire false identity papers and adopted the name Sophie Sterner. She worked at the Hess Hotel and the Hungarian King Hotel. Starting in the kitchen, she eventually worked her way up to housekeeping, assigned to the Hess family’s personal rooms. When a friend was caught smuggling clothes, a photo of Felicia was found among the clothes and she fled the hotel for fear of being caught.
Changing her name to Stephanie Heir, Felicia was able to find a position as a nanny and, later, at the Astoria Hotel. The authorities caught up with Felicia and she was sent to Auschwitz as a political prisoner.
Felicia arrived in Auschwitz in August of 1944 and was tattooed with the number A-25049. Shortly after her arrival, she was forced to give blood for German soldiers. To stop them from taking all her blood, a German nurse and fellow prisoner changed Felicia’s blood type on her records, and gave her bread and sausage to eat. Felicia attributes this act to helping her survive.
Felicia was transported with a group of 3,000 prisoners to Bergen-Belsen in October 1944. At the end of July 1944, there were 7,300 prisoners interned at Bergen-Belsen. By April 1945, this number had increased to 60,000. Overcrowding, poor sanitation, and lack of adequate food, water, and shelter led to an outbreak of disease. Tens of thousands perished in the first few months of 1945 and the bodies were often left in barracks for days before being removed. In March 1945, Felicia got Typhus. Her cousin, Estia, who she discovered on the transport to the camp with her, kept her alive by encouraging her to eat and get up.
Bergen-Belsen was liberated by the British on April 15, 1945. In May, Felicia and Estia were taken to a Displaced Persons (DP) camp in Lingen, Germany. In the camp, Felicia worked as a translator and met her future husband and fellow survivor, Arthur. After 6 or 7 months in the DP camp, Felicia moved to Paris, where her sister Lola was living, while Arthur completed his studies in England. Felicia and Arthur were married in England on July 3, 1948. They later moved to Canada and then the USA. The couple had four sons: Richard, Andrew, Michael, and Matthew.
Karen Treiger shares the survival story of her mother- and father-in-law, Esther and Sam Goldberg. Three years ago, Karen began a project to delve deeply into the lives of Sam and Esther. Karen knew that they had amazing stories of survival, but she wanted to fully understand their struggles and experiences.
Esther and Sam both grew up in Poland prior to the outbreak of World War II. Sam was drafted into the Soviet Army and imprisoned in a German POW Camp. He escaped, but was eventually deported to the Nazi death camp Treblinka. In 1943, Sam escaped from Treblinka too, and found safety in a nearby forest, where he met Esther. Esther had already established a hiding place there after fleeing Stozeck, Poland.
Until liberation of that part of Poland in 1944, Esther and Sam survived in hiding with the help of the non-Jewish Stys families. After the birth of their first child and several years in displaced persons camps, the Goldbergs came to the United States in 1949.
In 2016, Karen and her family traveled to Poland to meet the children of the Stys families, and thank them for their courage in saving the Goldbergs’ lives. This incredible connection has continued to inspire Karen to tell her family’s story, and now to share it with students and other groups as a Legacy Speaker for the Holocaust Center’s Speakers Bureau.
Karen has completed a book about the Goldbergs’ remarkable story of survival, My Soul is Filled with Joy: A Holocaust Story. She is a lawyer and has four adult children with her husband – Sam and Esther’s son – and resides in Seattle.
Daughter of Dutch rescuers, Ingrid shares the story of her family's bravery to hid 40 Jewish people during the Holocaust.
Ingrid Kanis Steppic was born in Holland in 1943. Her father, mother and older sisters hid 40 Jews in Holland during the Holocaust. She is now telling her story of this family of rescuers.
Ingrid’s family moved to Amersfoort only one day before the Germans invaded Holland on May 10th, 1940. Her father, Jan, was to be the manager of the town post office. His position allowed him to see returned mail and death notices. He realized that the Nazis were killing Jews long before many others found out, and he encouraged many Jews to go into hiding rather than register.
Jan helped Jews hide in Amersfoort or nearby Oldebroek, where he had grown up. The ‘hiders’ would first come to Ingrid’s house, and then her father would find a place for them. Her mother, Nel, was unfailingly vigilant to keep the Germans from discovering them. Her older siblings helped. Jan and Nel kept in touch with the people they had hidden.
Jan was also involved in the Dutch Underground. On one occasion, a raid had been planned on a distribution center to acquire the stamps for ration cards. Jan was forced to flee the scene and go underground. He was arrested and sent to Dachau in 1944.
Shortly after, Ingrid’s older sister Ali, was found with incriminating receipts from striking railroad workers, and was also arrested. Ali spent the rest of the war in a women’s prison, forced to mend clothing for German soldiers.
Without the pay from Jan’s job, or Ali’s help at home, Nel was hard-pressed to make ends meet during the infamous “Hunger Winter” of 1944-45, especially with a young child. The Kanis family continued to live in Amersfoort after the war was over. Ingrid married an American soldier and moved to the United States. In 1971, Ingrid’s parents were honored by Yad Vashem in Israel as "Righteous Among the Nations."
Between 20,000 and 30,000 Jews were hidden in Holland during the war. This included the Frank family. Of this number, about 2/3 survived.
Ingrid is a member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s Speakers Bureau, and presents her family’s story to local students and community groups.
Daughter of Dutch survivor of Auschwitz, Ine-Marie van Dam shares her mother's story.
Ada van Esso was born in Meppel, Holland to a Jewish family. When she was a young girl, the family moved to Amsterdam because they wanted to be in an area with a larger Jewish population, and to be farther from the German border.
After World War II began, Ada’s father planned for the family to escape Holland. He bribed officials who were to assist them in their escape, but the family was betrayed. They were sent to a prison in Berlin, and then deported to Auschwitz in 1943. While there, Ada was assigned to a building that housed a laundry for the Nazis. She worked with a group of women who lived in the building – not housed in Auschwitz barracks. Ada left Auschwitz in 1945 on a death march. She was liberated at Ravensbrück Concentration Camp and taken to Sweden to recover.
After the war, Ada returned to Holland and married Hans van Dam. Ine-Marie van Dam was born in Holland several years after, and grew up on the Dutch Caribbean island of Curaçao. Ine and her family moved to the Pacific Northwest at age 9. Fascinated by language and cultural diversity, Ine says she dreamed of living, studying, and working abroad.
Ine is fluent in a number of languages. She works as a conference interpreter, and has taught translation and interpretation at various colleges. In 2019, Ine bgean presenting the story of her mother’s Holocaust survival as a Legacy Speaker with the Holocaust Center for Humanity, utilizing video testimony, photos, maps, and other primary source documents.
Ada lives in Seattle in an assisted living facility. Ine visits her often from her home in Centralia, WA, and still speaks to her mother in Dutch.
Photo: Ine-Marie van Dam with her mother Ada.