Survivor STORY

Lola Borowska Lansky was born in Lodz, a center of industry and the second-largest city in Poland. She had an older brother, Louis, and a younger sister, Helen. Her father had served three years in the Polish army, and they had excellent relations with their neighbors, both Jews and Gentiles. Lola’s mother died when she was five and her father married her mother’s sister, an Eastern European Jewish custom.

Then on September 1, 1939 the German army invaded Poland quickly decimating all opposition. Due to the imminent threat, Lola’s stepmother sent all three children to stay with their grandparents in their country house. It was there that Lola first witnessed the cruelty and horror of the German occupation. Anti-Jewish laws were quickly enforced, and breaking any of them resulted in death. A second cousin of Lola’s, a young man of 21, was caught breaking curfew so they hung him with eleven other people from the village to serve as an example. The entire village was forced to watch.

In early 1941 the remaining Jews of the village were marched at gunpoint to the public school where they were forced to undress. They were then lined up before German doctors who inspected them then stamped them with an “A” or “B.” The people who were stamped “B” included Lola’s aunts, cousins and grandparents. She remembers her beloved grandmother waving good-bye and calling “Don’t forget us. Don’t forget us.” She never saw them again. After the war Lola learned that all the people stamped “B” were sent to Chelmno, an extermination camp. The Jews stamped “A” were taken to Ozorkow, a town 7 kilometers from Lodz; Lola, her father, stepmother, brother and sister among them. Here they were forced to share an apartment with another family, and survived by her father’s self-taught hat-making skills. He traded food for hats with the Polish farmers in the vicinity, and since his family had deep roots in the area he was well-known and treated fairly.

The family stayed in Ozorkow for a brief time before the Nazis forced all Jews to move into the Lodz ghetto. The ghetto was extremely crowded and food was scarce. People were routinely arrested and sent away. The best protection against death was working and proving one’s usefulness to the Germans.

Because Lola’s father was an excellent tailor, he was able to keep from being sent away by sewing custom-made uniforms for the Nazis. He taught Lola basic sewing skills, which saved her life. After a while, Lola was transferred to a factory that included a Jewish-run school. There she and her friends borrowed books from a secret library and attended concerts and the theater, often on empty stomachs.

In early 1944 the Germans liquidated the Lodz ghetto. All Jews were herded to the train station and shoved into cattle cars. After many days, the train arrived in Auschwitz. Lola’s uncle, brother, and father were taken away from her. After lying about her age, Lola, along with her stepmother and sister, were safe for the moment. They remained in Auschwitz for about six weeks when suddenly the women were given underpants and better clothes, and put back on the trains.

Filled with horror and trepidation, the three arrived at Ravensbruck, a women’s concentration camp in Germany. After a number of freezing nights without any shelter, they were once again put on trains, this time headed to the labor camp of Muhlhausen, a sub-camp of Buchenwald.

A few weeks later, in February 1945 the women were moved yet again, this time to the notorious concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. By then, Lola’s stepmother had come down with pneumonia. Lola and Helen were able to put her in a make-shift hospital, with Lola and Helen sleeping under the nurse’s bed. Lola begged her stepmother to hang on, but by the time the white flags of surrender encircled the camp it was too late. Exactly one day before liberation, Lola’s stepmother died, thus joining the sacred list of those who died in Bergen Belsen, including Anne Frank. On April 15, 1945, the British liberated Bergen-Belsen. For the rest of her life, Lola celebrated this day as her second birthday.

In June 1945 Lola got incredible news. A friend has seen a list of Jews who had been saved by Americans and living in Munich. Her father, brother, and uncle were on it! Lola and Helen were determined to join them. She was reunited with her family. After what had happened to them, Lola and her family no longer wanted to live in Europe. Lola arrived in New York on June 24, 1946. In 1947, she married Rubin Lansky, also a Holocaust survivor from Poland, who had fallen in love with her when they met in a DP camp in Germany and followed her to America. Young and filled with hope, they moved to Atlanta in 1953 to raise their children.

Lola devoted the rest of her life to speaking and teaching about the Holocaust. In 1964, she co- founded Eternal Life-Hemshech, a membership organization for survivors living in Atlanta, and in 1965 led the campaign to have a Holocaust monument erected in Atlanta which resulted in The Memorial to the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery. Lola felt it to be her mission and passion to speak for all those who did not survive and for all those who were unable to retell their painful stories. In 1985 she established and co-funded the Atlanta Memorial Fund of Eternal Life – Hemshech which provides scholarships and financial support for Holocaust education and programming. She passed away in 1999.

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Lola Borkowska Lansky