Helen Przysuskier Levinson

I was born in Poland, the youngest of three children. I grew up in Lublin, where my father was a brewer. I remember the pretty garden at the brewery, violin classes, and some friends at the school where I was the only Jew in my class. I became close with a young Catholic girl named Christina. We spent Christmas and Hanukkah together. I had no way of knowing then how my close relationship with Christina and her family would someday save my life.

When the war broke out in Poland, I was caught during a raid and sent to Majdanak where I was forced to work. One day a Ukrainian guard hit me over the head for working too slow. The women around me kept me from falling to the ground for fear that I would be shot and killed. Even now, I still part my hair over the scar.

I escaped Majdanek with the help of a Nazi guard who knew my father. The guard disguised me in a Hitler youth uniform and smuggled me out. I hid in an alley and crawled toward home. By 1942 my father, believing the family should separate, gave me money and a fake birth certificate. I became Christina Helena Czerniakowska. After that, I never saw my family again.
Alone, I fled to my friend Christina's house where they hid me in a shed. Eventually I was again on my own. At fourteen I boarded the train with the money my father gave me and a prayer book from Christina's mother. Until the end of the war, I was forced to work for my survival.

After the war, I searched for surviving relatives and located aunts and uncles in Rochester, New York. In 1947, when I was 17, I came to Rochester. I graduated from Franklin High School and later studied dental hygiene at Monroe Community College. I worked as a dental hygienist for thirty years.

I began speaking to students about the Holocaust after my Rabbi showed me a book that claimed the Holocaust was a hoax. Today I speak to each new generation so they will know the truth about the Holocaust and remember not to hate.

Biography from the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights Project, Monroe Community College
Photograph by Louis Ouzer