Holocaust survivors from the Bronx prove even the most tragic of stories can have a happy ending.
On Friday, December 4, Congressman Joseph Crowley met with several Holocaust survivors from the Self Help’s Holocaust Survivor Program at Bronx House to formally recognize their courage and extraordinary personal experiences during one of history’s darkest chapters.
At the event, Crowley presented Congressional Citations to 32 survivors from the program and spoke of their perseverance.
“We are honored to have so many survivors with us and in our community who have shared their powerful testimonies of one of the most horrific tragedies of our time,” said the congressman, adding. “Their stories are ones of courage and hope and it’s critical we do all we can to share those stories with future generations.”
One such survivor, Helen Lawsky, 87, shared her incredible tale of survival and romance in Nazi occupied Poland.
Born Helena Szulevitz in Lodz, Poland, Lawsky was 12-years old when her family experienced the horrors of WWII.
A large industrial town located in central Poland, Lodz was established as the Lodz Ghetto shortly after the Nazis’ September 1, 1939 occupation.
Lawsky described the ghetto’s deplorable conditions where she witnessed her neighbors suffering from starvation and coping with death daily.
As too often was the case, Lawsky’s family was divided among different concentration camps for the war’s duration.
Helen’s mother and cousins were sent to Auchswitz; her father and her brother, Abram to Dachau and Helen and her sister, Rose to Mittelsteine, a female concentration camp and the sisters to a slave-labor camp.
Though Lawsky said she did not witness any deaths at the camp, the experience has haunted her.
“I used to wake up screaming because I thought they were going to put me in the grave. My experience is something I do not like to think about, but it is something I will never forget,” she said.
Following Grafenort’s 1945 liberation by the Russian army, Helen and her sister returned to Lodz in search for Abram after discovering he was alive.
While at Lodz, they met a 17-year old Auchswitz survivor named Heniek Wroczlawski who lost both his parents and brother before his deportation.
Helen and Heniek soon began dating and Rose met her future husband, Felix during this time.
The sisters reunited with their brother, Abram, who informed them that neither of their parents had survived the Holocaust.
The five survivors left Lodz and traveled through Czechoslovakia and Vienna before settling in the American controlled Frankfurt am Main, Germany in 1946.
Heniek and Helen married on August 31, 1948 and in 1949, the happy couple embarked for America to start a new life.
She said they adapted their name to Lawsky and settled down in the Grand Concourse where they had their sons, Richard and Harold.
Happily married for 67 years, both Harry and Helen have resided in Co-op City for the past 45 years and have three granddaughters, Penny, Allison and Samantha; a grandson, David and a great grandson, Noah.
“We’re very happy to be living here especially after everything we went through,” said Lawsky. “Like my husband always says, ‘there’s nothing like America’.”