Survivor STORY

Dora Ellen was born in Wyszogrod, Poland, into an impoverished Hassidic (Orthodox Jewish) family. After finishing primary school, Dora moved to Warsaw, where she received vocational training at the ORT school and earned a degree in library science at the university. She then worked in a library for several years, where she met her husband, Israel. Dora and Israel stayed in Warsaw until 1939, when Germany overran Poland.

Dora, Israel and Israel's brother, Naphtali, joined the throngs of young people escaping the impending Nazi onslaught of Warsaw and walked ten days into Soviet-controlled territory. Dora never saw her family again.

When Nazi forces attacked the Soviet Union, the Ellenzweigs fled farther east, to Kamishin, where Dora worked in a canning factory and Israel worked in a glass factory before he was mobilized into a Russian labor corps. After Israel was unexpectedly released, they decided to escape to Tashkent, Uzbeckistan, to stay ahead of the German forces. In Tashkent, Dora and Naphtali worked in the rice paddies of a collective farm, and Israel found a job as an assistant bookkeeper. During this period, Naphtali died suddenly of peritonitis.

After running away to a small village near Tashkent, Israel was offered Soviet citizenship, which he refused, and was sentenced to two years in a prison. He was sent to a collective farm of the N.K.V.D., the Soviet secret police that reached an apex of cruelty under Stalin. After several months, Dora was able to hire a lawyer to convince the court that Israel would gladly accept Soviet citizenship, and he was released.

Israel and Dora lived in Lunachelsk until the war ended and they decided to make their way back to Poland, avoiding the anti-Semitic hoodlums who were trying to find and murder Jews after the war. In Krakow, they made contact with the Bricha, which smuggled them out of Poland and eventually into Germany, where they helped establish the Pockow Displaced Persons Camp, with assistance from The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (the Joint) and The United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (U.N.R.R.A.). Dora established a library and Israel became secretary of the camp leadership. After two years in Pocking, Israel was offered the position of editor of the widely distributed newspaper of the Landsberg D.P. Camp, The Landsberger Yiddische Zeitung, which attempted to grapple with questions and issues facing Jews in Europe after the war.

In 1950, the Ellenzweigs immigrated to New York and after Israel went on his own to Miami, where he taught Yiddish, they moved to Atlanta on the advice of a fellow survivor. Israel went into the grocery business after another stint as a Jewish religious school teacher. Dora and Israel now run a lunch concession at Georgia State University. They have two daughters, Peggy and Martha.

Judaism and Jewishness

Right now, I remember with a kind of sweet, sweetness the shabbos, which was with the seven candles for the seven children and my father coming home and saying the brachas [blessings] over the wine, and the havdallahs after shabbos. We could not drink the wine because my father used to say, "If you drink the wine from this glass hair will grow on your face." And, of course, when I start, I learned myself to read Yiddish and then Polish and I got taken up very much with Polish history and literature and I tried, all of a sudden I tried to get away from all the restrictions that a Hassidic family has. And I left for Warsaw and I felt a great elation that nobody can tell me what to do, I'm a free person. Now, I regret very much the feelings of, so to say, separation that gave me at that time a happiness. Right now I am longing for the same thing that I would have because I know that I can never, never have it again.

Leaving Europe

But I want to point out that the Jewish, so to say organizations, or the skills to organize their civil life was already right away as the Germans let down and the war ended. This came so much to the surface that I cannot get over ‘til now. It was so well-organized that we came up and they said, "You want to leave Poland," and we said, "Yes, but we don't have any money." And they told us with these words: "Don't you worry about money. You want to get out from Poland, we'll get you out from Poland." And we went on the border, the Polish-Czechoslovak border. There was this beautiful young Jewish woman who bribed, because we saw that she bribed the Polish officer to let us through the border. And we came to a little town where there was already organized Jewish community, who got us out. We were arrested. The got us out right the first day, they put us in a synagogue, we slept the night in a synagogue there, and they provided us with food. So, it's unbelievable that those people who before they were the slaves, they were the people who couldn't do a thing, that everybody now laughs, that they was, they could not withstand the German power or the Polish anti-Semites. And all of a sudden, all the help for people as us came from those people. This is unforgettable.

Later on, this paper that Israel talking about, the people who organized that paper were, so to say, an elite group from Lithuania, Jews from Lithuania. They had kind lofty ideas about this newspaper. But, when later on, under the direction of this man, we start putting --I say we, because in a way, in an indirect way, I contributed sometimes also to the newspaper --we start giving out practical advice to the people who didn't know what to do with the products where they came from America. They never knew what's a, what's a peanut butter and they never knew how to bake things. People were torn away from normal life for many, many years. And that's why young people a lot who could not remember what their mother did, how they cook, what they did. So I think the newspaper provided also a lot of practical advice for the people. It was not only the lofty ideas about Israel, but also, like he mentioned, about getting to work. Although there was not work per se in the camp, but we tried to organize the ORT start coming to life, which was the ORT from, back from Poland and which teach, what's teaching people different skills. And the ORT took place in the camp and that was a great contribution to getting back those people to a normal life.

Explore themes found in this biography:

Dora Ellen