Victoria Petroff
International journalist and producer

(Not) a Good Time for Love: 11 Love Stories of the Holocaust Survivors

“(Not )a Good Time for Love” is the name of unique exhibition at the Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. (picture by V.Petroff)
“(Not) a Good Time for Love”: exhibition at the Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center (V.Petroff)

“He didn’t kiss me goodbye.
The time for kisses had passed”

This Saturday, April 11 is marked as an important date in the history of many countries. The Liberation Day of Buchenwald. On this day, starting from 1945, we remember all those who have been captured by the Nazis during the Second World War and sent to concentration camps. All those who managed to survive terrible tortures and gained the long-awaited freedom. “(Not) a Good Time for Love” is the name of a unique exhibition at the Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. This project reminds us that even in the most challenging times we are united by love. Our love for each other and our love for God. The exhibition tells us about love and care in the times of the Holocaust in search of new perspectives on the traumatising experience and new language to represent individual memories.

Victoria Petroff reading through letters and diaries at the exhibition (V.Petroff)

”The installation shows us incredible moments of the past weddings and dates in ghettoes, forbidden gifts, mutual caring, dreams of owning a home, family and own land – Palestine,” – says one of the authors of the exhibition.

The project is based on the recently published diaries, memoirs and biographies of the concentration camps prisoners, Jewish partisans and members of the political underground as well as their children, grandchildren and invited biographers. The exhibition presents 11 incredible love stories – Lale Sokolov and Gisela Fuhrmannova, Manya Nagelstein and Meyer Korenblit, Inge Katz and Shmuel Berger, Rochelle Shleif and Jack Sutin, and other victims of the Holocaust who lived through separation, death of their children, friends, and relatives in the time of war.  Only 10 of these love stories end well. These people survived and saved their love until the end.

The “Holocaust Figures” series, created by the artist William Foyle in 2015, bears witness to an expansion in the circle of bearers of sacrificial memory, providing an example of ethical resonance that goes beyond the interests of a national community and three generations of artists who worked or are working with the trauma of the Holocaust. (V.Petroff)

“They got married in the ghetto and gave birth there. The “Death Machine” didn’t break the main thing – the human spirit and the will to live. After all, they wouldn’t let them die, otherwise, it was the ultimate surrender”, – says Alexander Boroda, the President of the Federation of Jewish Communities of Russia.

Lale and Gita

The love story between Lale and Gita is the most famous. This is the only love story during the Holocaust translated into almost all languages ​​of the world. This tale was the basis for the biographical novel by Heather Morris “The Tattooist of Auschwitz”. In 1942, 24-year-old Ludwig Sokolov went to Prague. He knew that Jews are sent to work for the Germans. From Prague, he was transported to Poland, and then he ended up in Auschwitz. In the concentration camp, the prisoner No 32407, Lale Sokolov, becomes a tattoo artist. A few months later, he made a tattoo on the arm of a young girl. It was the Gita. Gisela Fuhrmannova, the prisoner No 34902. Despite the difficult environment and the dangerous situation, young people fell in love with each other. Lale did incredible things – he was getting medicine, he brought food and took the deal with fascists, he exchanged jewelry and supported Gita all the time. He was the man who risked all to win the freedom of a helpless female, freedom for both of them. And love saved them. After the war, Lale found the Gita in Bratislava. They got married and had one son – Gary. 

Lale Sokolov and his future wife Gita in their earlier years. (Supplied)

Lale meets Gita, Auschwitz, 1942:
“Lale tried not to look up. He must transfer the five digits onto the girl. There is already a number there but it has faded. He pushes the needle into her left arm, making “3”, trying to be gentle. Blood oozes. But the needle hasn’t gone deep enough and he has to trace the number again. She doesn’t flinch at the pain Lale knows he’s inflicting. They’ve been warned – say nothing, do nothing. He wipes away the blood and rubs green ink into the wound”.

Lale and Gita, Auschwitz, 1942:
“What they all share is fear. And youth”.

Lale in conversation with SS guard Baretski, Auschwitz, 1942:
“- Have you ever given a girl flowers?- asked Lale.
 – No, why would I do that?
 – Because they like a man who gives them flowers. Better still if you pick them yourself.
 – Well, I’m not gonna do that. I’d get laughed at”.

Lale talks to Gita, Auschwitz, 1943:
“- May I kiss you? Lale asks.
 – Why would you want to? I haven’t brushed my teeth for I don’t know how long.
 – Me neither, so I guess we cancel each other out”.

Lale about women, Auschwitz, 1944:
“Lale looks at these young women… They were brought to this camp as girls, and now – not one of them yet having reached the age of twenty-one – they are broken, damaged young women. He knows they will never grow to be the women they were meant to be”.

Gita talks to Lale, Auschwitz, 1944:
“Babies? I don’t know if I will be able to have children. I think I’m screwed up inside”.

Lale talks to Gita, Auschwitz, 1944:
“- We will leave this place and have a free life together. Trust me Gita.
 – I do.
Lale likes the sound of that.
 – One day you will say those two little words to me under different circumstances. In front of a rabbi, surrounded by our family and friends”.

Laura and Dick

Hannelore Wolff was 14 years old when she experienced the first separation from her family. Parents sent her to boarding school for Jewish girls. In May 1942, her family was deported to Poland. During the war, Laura was in the five concentration camps – Belzec, Krasnik, Budzyn, Plaszow, Birkenau and Brinnlitz. She was 19 years old when she met the 28-year-old Bernhard (Dick) Hillman in Budzyn. They fell in love and started to pursue their dream – to become free and happy. At risk to his own life, Dick obtained food and beverages at the kitchen to swap it for shoes or clothes for his beloved Laura. At the end of the war, they both were included in the famous Schindler’s List. Laura and Dick got married in October 1945. After all, they emigrated to Australia. In 2005, Hannelore published an autobiographical book, “I Will Plant You a Lilac Tree: A Memoir of a Schindler’s List Survivor”.

Dick and Hannelore Hillman with the Jewish army chaplain, who married them in Bavaria. (WordPress/Stolpersteineaurich)

Hannelore and Dick in Budzyn, Poland, winter 1942:
“When it came time to part, Dick pulled a pair os socks and underwear from his pocket. I blushed at the sight of the intimate garments, but already I could feel their warmth against my cold body…
 – To think, only a short time ago we were total strangers, and here you are now, risking being punished for bringing me these things. How can I ever thank you?
 – You should know by now why I am doing this. – he said”.

Laura, talking with her friend Fella about Dick, Budzyn, Poland, 1942:
“- I think I am in love.
 – The Polish soldier?
 – I met him tonight, in the shed behind the kitchen. He brought me bread and coffee. I don’t mean the bitter stuff they give us, this was sweet and tasty. For once I am not hungry.
 – How can you talk of love in a place like this? – Fella snapped. – One doesn’t fall in love in a place like Budzyn.
 – It is too late, darling Fella. Love is not something you plan, it just happens”.

Hannelore and her friend Fella, Budzyn, Poland, 1943:
“Fella was not her usual self. As soon as she reached the top bunk, she began to cry.
 – I am in love with a German soldier, and he is in love with me. – she told me. – What am I going to do?
The soldier was sent back to the Russian front, and Fella was beaten to death”.

Dick talks to Laura, Budzyn, a branch of Majdanek, Poland, 1944:
“- There is a rumour going around, – Dick said. – A man by the name Oskar Schindler is taking eleven hundred Jews out of here. If only we could go with them.
 – Could this be true? I didn’t dare get my hopes up”.

Laura’s memories, Budzyn, Poland, 1944:
“- Tell me what you remember most about home? – Dick asked me one evening.
 – A lilac tree. – I said. – It bloomed every May around the time of Mama’s birthday. Papa was a romantic, he would stand under the tree and sing songs of lilacs and love to her. The memory is so vivid in my mind, I can almost smell the lilacs now.
 – One day, when this is over, I’ll plant you a lilac bush. Perhaps it will grow old and become a tree, like the one you remember”.

Hannelore, not knowing that Dick had been forced to work as a part of a Sonderkommando Unit, Budzyn, Poland,1944:
“Dick had clearly lost his will to live… He seemed to shrink from week to week. Every time the inspection whistle sounded, I was afraid he would be the one selected to die”.

Laura and Dick in “Schindler’s Camp”, Brunnlitz, Czechoslovakia, 1944:
“- Close your eyes, I have a surprise for you. – Dick teased.
He was in a joyous mood this evening.
 – Give me a clue.
 – Let’s see. It was first seen in Paradise.
 – Paradise was at the beginning of time. I can’t possibly guess what that has to too with your surprise. Tell me what it is.
 – Promise to keep your eyes closed. Now put your hand over the wire.
When I discovered he had placed an apple in my hand, I acted like a child receiving a piece of candy.
 – Where did you get this?
 – From Paradise”.

Rochelle and Jack

Jack Sutin and Rochelle Shleif knew each other before the occupation. But Rochelle belonged to a wealthy Polish family, and Jack was just a country guy. In the summer of 1941, the Nazis killed her family during the liquidation of the ghetto in Stolpce. Rochelle ran away into the woods and joined a detachment of Soviet partisans. Jack ran away from the ghetto in Mir in August 1942. Together with his father, he built a small dugout in the local woods. Jack often dreamed about Rochelle. In his imagination, she was his destiny and he felt that should take care of her for the rest of his life. Even with the ridicule of other Jewish partisans, he waited for her in his bunker every day. At the end of 1942, she finally came to him. Until the end of the war, Rochelle and Jack were hiding in the woods. In 1947, their daughter Cecilia was born in Poland, and in a year their family moved to USA.

Identification card certifying that Jack Sutin is employed by the U.S. Army as Camp Leader of IRO Team VI Gauting. (US Holocaust Memorial Museum/Courtesy of Jack Sutin)

Jack before the German invasion of Poland, Baranowicze, 1939:
“I wanted to emigrate to Palestine. So I filled out the applications and my mother sent in a deposit. I was supposed to go with two of my friends… They received their papers two months before the war. My papers never arrived”.

Rochelle in the ghetto, Stolpce, 1941:
“We didn’t expect to survive. But we hoped we would”.

Jack, escaping from the Mir ghetto into the woods, Belarus, 1942:
“Once I started to run it seemed that my feet barely touched the ground. Bushes and branches would loom ahead of me and I would jump and fly over them like a bird. There were bullets hitting the trees on either side of me. There were bodies falling. I kept running for maybe an hour, never stopping, not turning until the very end… I was on my own”.

Jack and Rochelle, recalling how Rochelle moved to another bunker uncomfortable with Jack’s affection, Naliboki Forest, Belarus, 1942:
“What had come to me in the dream was vision of helping and loving Rochelle that gave my life in the woods a meaning. When that vision was lost, the purpose of going on seemed lost as well”.
“He had done everything he could for me. He tried to insist that his group treat me nicely. And I just ran away, leaving him with his hurt feelings and a group that was mocking him constantly”.

Jack about romantic affairs between partisans, Naliboki Forest, Poland, 1942:
“Affairs would arise now and then – very seldom were serious feelings involved. It was an atmosphere of “Live today, and die tomorrow, so make the best of it while you can”.

Rochelle in Naliboki Forest, Belarus, 1942:
“Jack was very nice to me. He gave me a pair of trousers without rips and tears, and a real pair of boots to replace my two left army boots. He also gave me the top part of his own pajamas. With that top and boots that fit my feet, I was suddenly fancy… All ready for the wedding”.

Two days before the arrival of the Red Army, Shalom Zorin’s partisan Unit, 1945:
“In the final two days, I pleaded with Jack to follow a plan I had devised. I put on him a blouse and a long skirt that covered up his legs. I told him to bend his head and hunch his shoulders and walk with difficulty, like an old woman. I disgusted him because I did not want other women to be resentful about Jack staying with me while their men went off to fight. It saved his life. That I know”.
“Why did I agree to disguise myself in that way? Rochelle and I were madly in love. We had made it that far, through so many years of misery, and we started to believe that we had a future”.

Memories of Rochelle, 1945:
“I still remember my mother’s last words as she was waiting to be taken to the grave, “Tell Rochelle to take “nekome” – revenge. Revenge!”. I always felt that I didn’t put my life completely on the block in order to extract revenge. The instinct to survive was too strong. Surviving and starting up new family, as Jack and I have done, was a greater revenge – the best of all”.

Isadora and Joshua

Isadora Rosen and her younger brother Yisrael lost their parents during the deportation from Romania to the Ukrainian ghetto. Joshua Szereny’s mother died in Auschwitz in 1944, and his father died in the Mauthausen concentration camp in 1945. In 1943, he ended up in a labor camp in Hungary, and then he went to Northern Transylvania. And from there, the story writes itself. Joshua decided to join a group of Jewish workers. He ran away with them from Transylvania and in 1944 the destines of Isadora and Yoshua are crossed. They both met on the deck of the “Toros” cargo ship, disguised as a Red Cross hospital ship. Joshua participated in the defense of the ship. He always said that the moment he first saw Isadora, the universe cracked. She was sitting on the upper deck in tears. Joshua brought her a blanket and sat next to her. They were together until dawn. Joshua and Isadora married on the train en route to Palestine, using old coins instead of wedding rings.

The Luck of The Jews: An Incredible Story of Loss, Love, and Survival in the Holocaust by Michael Benanav, their son. (Cover of the book)

Isadora on her way from Balti to Transnistria, Atachi, Romania, autumn 1941:
“Over the next months Isadora would return to the memory of the day her family camped under the trees, especially the taste of the warm, thick milk, which coated her stomach with what felt like love, and gave her the brief sensation of being full”.

Isadora, marching with her family and other Jews of Balti to Transnistria, Romania, autumn 1941:
“Snaking in long lines along the country roads, between vast fields of sunflowers and corn, the sad parade was struck dumb. The only sounds were those of fabric rustling against fabric, footsteps slapping puddles and caustic commands from the soldiers ordering their human herd to keep moving or be shot. Even the babies knew to be silent”.

Memories from Obodovka ghetto, Ukraine, 1942:
“Immanuel Weissglass, whom everyone called “Onu”, had curly golden hair, and his face, despite its thinness, retained an angelic quality. Onu was different from everyone else in the ghetto. He wrote poetry, and, as though he was living in an alternate universe, spoke of life with a romanticism that was once uplifting and absurd. Isadora’s friend Renee quickly developed a crush on him, but Onu only had eyes for Isa. She was fond of him too, but immune to full-blown infatuation. She was all too aware of the reality of their circumstances, and thought it a little bit crazy that anyone could think about love or write about beauty in a hellhole like Obodovka… The three of them needed each other’s company, which was too precious to spoil with pettiness”.

Isadora and Yisrael relocated to an orphanage in Bucharest after the liberation of Obodovka by Red Army, 1944:
“In November 1944, a representative from the Jewish Agency came to the orphanage, offering the children a chance to immigrate to Palestine. Isadora considered it. She worried about her brother Yisrael, who was putting the skills he’d acquired in Obodovka to good use on Bucharest’s black market. Though she had no concrete hopes for what they would find there, Isa wasn’t immune to the mystique of Palestine. After all, it was the Promised Land, than Bucharest”. 

Wedding on the train to Palestine, December 1944:
“They exchanged vows, and Joshua gave Isadora a first, tentative kiss – on the forehead. She laughed once more. They’d have to wait a year until Isadora learned Hebrew before they could really communicate. She likes to say that it was the happiest year of their marriage”.

Isadora and Joshua in the former asylum occupied by refugees, Tel Aviv, 1945:
“Their first night in the asylum was their first night alone. When the door shut behind them and Joshua began to undress, Isadora became nervous. She knew nothing about being intimate with a man and was terrified of being seen naked. “Since my father died when I was so young”, she explained, “I didn’t know there was anything more to being a wife than cooking and keeping house”. They took things very slowly”.

Memories of Michael Benanav, Isadora and Joshua’s grandson:
“The Holocaust convinced both Joshua and Isadora of the impossibility of the existence of God, something Joshua asserted with his typical confidence and Isadora said only quietly, just in case there actually was a God and He happened to be listening. Yet their atheism in no way diluted their sense of being Jewish”.

Edith and Werner

At the beginning of the war, the flat of Edith Hahn and her family was confiscated by Nazis, but her younger sister Hansi managed to leave for Palestine. In 1941, Edith got a job on an asparagus plantation in German Osterburg. A few months later she was transferred to the Aschersleben labor camp for work at the cardboard box factory. In the summer of 1942, Edith knew about the deportation of her mother to Poland. She made everything impossible and went to Vienna, but unfortunately, it was late. Miraculously, she managed to make new documents in the name of Grete Denner, confirming the Aryan race. Werner Vetter served as a German officer in Munich, where he lived and had his house. At the same time, Edith got a job at the Red Cross organization and moved there too. Edith and Werner fell in love and married during the war. In 1945, Werner was sent off to the front. After he was captured, he spent two years in Siberia. After the liberation of Brandenburg, Edith became a judge and got the house. Angelika, daughter of Edith and Werner, became the only Jewish child born in a hospital in Nazi Germany in 1944. In 1948, Edith emigrated to the UK, where she worked as a maid until the end of her life. In 1999, she wrote and published the book “The Nazi Officer’s Wife: How One Jewish Woman Survived the Holocaust”.

Edith Hahn Beer and Werner Vetter. (Public/Wikimedia Commons)

Edith, a paper factory in Aschersleben labour camp, Germany, 1941:
“The skin on my fingertips wore through, rubbed to a bloody mess by the cardboard. I would have been to use gloves, but you couldn’t run the machine wearing gloves; they slowed you down and increased the likelihood that your fingers would be chopped off. So I just bled”.

Edith with Maria Niederall, her Aryan friend, Vienna, 1942:
“Maria took my hands in hers. “You have to soften up these hands”, she said, and rubbed sweet-smelling lotion into my cracked and calloused palms. The feel of her strong fingers on my wrist, the smell of the cream – it was such an urbane comfort, so civilized. “Take this cream with you. Put it on your hands every day, twice a day. You’ll soon feel like a woman again”.

Edith, a paper factory in Aschersleben labour camp, Germany, 1942:
“We heard that girls who had left to get married were being deported to Poland with their husbands”.

Edith about child, Brandenburg, 1943:
“I began to talk to Werner about having a child. He did not want one, not with me. He had absorbed much of the Nazi race propaganda, and he believed that Jewish blood would somehow dominate in any child of ours. He didn’t want that”.

Edith and Werner got married in October 1943:
“Me and Werner were supposed to receive a copy of Mein Kampf – Hitler’s gift to all newly married couples – but just that week the supply in Brandenburg had run out”.

Edith remembering foreign workers from the Arado airplane factory, Werner’s workplace, Brandenburg, 1944:
“By 1944, almost a quarter of the court cases concerned illicit liaisons between German women and foreigners, and every day three of four workers were executed for crimes like pretty thievery and adultery”.

Edith, working at the Juvenile Court in Brandenburg, September 1945:
“My work as a judge centered on children. Destitute German children were everywhere in those days, begging in train stations, sleeping on piles of rags on the pavement. They turned to lives of crime. They sold precious food on the black market. They sold their sisters and themselves. They stole whatever they could find to steal”.

Werner comes back from the labour camp in Siberia, Brandenburg, 1947:
“My wife, Grete, was obedient! She cooked! She cleaned! She ironed! She sewed! She treated me like a king! And I want her back!”
“Well, you can’t have her!” – I shouted. “Grete is dead! She was a Nazi invention – a lie, just like the propaganda on the radio! And now that the Nazis are gone, she is gone too! I am Edith! I am Edith! I am who I am! You cannot have a meek, scared, obedient little slave labourer anymore! Now you have a real wife!”

Paula and Yisrael

Paula Egalnik and Yisrael Friedberg met when they were in high school in Poland. After graduation, Yisrael asked Paula to marry him, but she refused him. She went to study in Moscow because Jews weren’t admitted to universities in Poland. In the USSR, Paula found out that her whole family was in the ghetto. Yisrael moved to Engels (Russia) and enrolled at the Agricultural University. During the time she was in Moscow, Paula married Yerachmiel Kligermann, they studied together in University and she gradually fell in love with him. The happy couple moved to Chelyabinsk, where Paula gave birth to a child. Her husband was sent to the front as a medical officer, where he soon died. When Yisrael knew about Yerachmiel’s death, he asked Paula to marry him again. She finally said “yes”. After the war, Paula and Yisrael moved to Poland and then relocated to Palestine. They changed their family name to Freyen in honour of relatives, who were the victims of the Holocaust.

The exhibition “(Not) a Good Time for Love”, Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. (V.Petroff)

Paula, Biala-Podlaska, Poland, 1939:
“She loved her house and its view from the window very much. But to risk her life for it? Her father and mother did not see it that way. After hours of arguing, it was clear to Paula that she would not be able to persuade them to leave the house that they had worked so hard to build, and run away with her. “No, Paula, we’re staying here”, – her father said calmly. “Our fate will be like all other Jews. Take care of yourself”. 

Paula with her new lover Mila, Moscow:
“On weekends, Mila and Paula took the metro to a remote suburb for some privacy. There in the woods they would sit on a bench in the shade of the pine trees. “Look how beautiful it is here”. Paula would curl up in Mila’s arms pressing her lips to his neck and inhaling the smell of his shaving cream, so magical the world seemed beyond the profile of his arched nose”. 

On their way from University, Moscow:
“- Marry me, – Mila whispered suddenly.
 – What did you say?
 – Marry me”, – he repeated.
God Almighty, he wanted to marry her! Isn’t it wonderful? She reached over to pinch her thigh furtively. No, this isn’t a dream. It felt as if all the other passengers on the bus were watching her, waiting for her answer. She blushed deeply, a stunned laugh erupted from her throat.
 – I will marry you… – Paula whispered”.

Dora, Mila’s mother, trying to persuade Paula to get an abortion, Moscow, 1941:
“You must understand how difficult it is for Samuel and me to feed two students, especially now, during the war. Besides, do you really think you can take care of a baby and continue your studies?” – Paula listened to her the same way you listen to the rain against the window. Dora’s words didn’t mean anything to her and they fell on empty ears. A child is growing inside of her! The thought of it filled her with joy”.

Mila, being sent to serve as a military officer on the front lines, Moscow:
“He stopped, his eyes transfixed on a random drunk who was walking toward them, singing and rocking on his feet.
 – What’s the matter? – Paula asked.
Mila looked up at the sky, his face pale.
 – What’s wrong? – Paula raised her voice feeling weak in the knees.
 – This drunkard. – Mila’s voice choked. – He too will be sent like me to be killed on the front lines. I will last longer than him. Maybe six months. But I will not come back to you, my love. I will not come back…
 – Nonsense! – Paula shouted. – It’s just the vodka talking”.

Yisrael with Paula’s son, thinking of Palestine, Moscow:
“- Have you ever had an orange, Alik?
 – No!
The boy shook his head.
 – Here, taste it. One day I might take you and your mother to the land where the orange trees bloom”.

Paula, age 24, thinking about Yisrael’s proposal, Moscow:
“He still loves her? After all these years? Did he understand what his proposal to marry a widow with a child meant? He was still single, why should he tie himself to a woman like her? After all, he could marry a younger woman, a beautiful woman, a woman without baggage. After they meet for the first time, his passion would probably cool off… It was only the pain over the loss of his loved ones that has made him fool enough to believe he still loved her. He probably feels he’ll retrieve something of a home that has been taken away from him”.

Manya and Meyer

Manya Nagelstein and Meyer Korenblit have been together since they were children. In 1942, Manya left her family and ran away with the Meyer family to the local farm. At the same time, the Nazis shot her parents in the basement of a house in Hrubieszow (Poland). Two young lovers were hiding in the haystacks and ended up in the ghetto, where they searched for the valuable things of the Jews and gave them to the Nazis. For the woman he loved, Meyer decided to take a risk and hide the silverware. He wanted to swap it for money. Mayer was wanted by the Nazis. On pain of death, Meyer used to come in the ghetto to kiss Manya. In September 1943 they were sent to the Budzyn concentration camp. Manya started to write a diary and hide it in her hair. At the end of the war, they ended up in different camps. Manya was in Auschwitz, and Meyer was in Dachau. In 1943, she gave birth to a daughter in the camp. But the barrack neighbours killed a child in order to save Manya from execution. In 1944, she entered the gas chamber but caught a chance to join a group of other women. A few months later her camp was liberated by the Red Army, and Meyer managed to escape. They got married in 1946 in Hrubieszow. Manya and Meyer had a son, Shlomo. In 1950, they emigrated to USA, where their second son, Michael, was born.

Manya, hiding in a haystack with Meyer and his family, a farm near Hrubieszow, Poland, autumn 1942:
“Here she was, in Meyer’s arms, with his parents no more than a few inches from her feet. Think of it! It was quite daring! She nuzzled closer and placed her hand on Meyer’s cheek. She felt him smile and stifled a giggle of delight. She leaned her head against his and felt his lips on her hair and on her cheek, settling hard on her mouth. She shivered with delight and pressed the length of her body against his”.

Manya in Hrubieszow ghetto, Poland, 1943:
“Lying in bed in the early morning hours, Manya shut out the room and guided her dream into a fantasy of being Meyer’s wife, of a morning spent shopping in the old market, of planning a big family dinner that would include the best food his profits from the flour mill could provide. She let the dream dissipate, sighed, and opened her eyes”.

Manya, Budzyn, Poland, winter 1943:
“We may not be free yet, but Meyer will think of a way. Until then I’ll be patient. Thankful to catch a glimpse of him now and then. Thankful to steal a few moments together when we can. Thankful we’re still alive. I can feel good about that”.

Michael Korenblit, Manya and Meyer’s son:
“I remember, at the age of six, noticing the strange blue letters that seemed to be painted on my parent’s arms. I asked a lot of questions, and they explained that the markings were called tattoos. I recall trying to rub them off, but they were permanent – as permanent, I was to learn, as the memories associated with them”.

Manya after the deportation to Mielec, Poland, 1944:
“Lately, the movements had grown stronger, and there was no doubt that Manya was pregnant. Under different circumstances, the news would have been quite thrilling and she would be caught up in the moment. But not now”.

Zenia and Leizer

In 1941, when Leizer Bart was 28 years old, he ran away to Vilnius from the Jewish ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland. A short time later, he met Zenia Lewison at one of the underground Zionist meetings. Leizer helped her with new documents for her grandmother because she was hiding in the attic of the house. In 1943, Zenia and Leizer got married. During one of the executions, Zenia sustained a head injury. The Nazi soldier hit her in the head with the rifle. This case saved her from death. A week before the liquidation of the ghetto, Zenia and Leizer run away to the Rudnitsky forest and joined a group of partisans. Zenia’s mother and brother died in Vilnius. The priest from Hrubieszow told Leizer that all his relatives also died during the war. After the war, Zenia and Leizer moved to the USA. During the next three years, young lovers tried to make their documents. In 1948, they sailed from Naples to New York, where they had a baby.

Former Springfield resident Leizer Bart, the sixth man from the left, and his wife Zenia Lewinson-Bart, standing with a rifle in front of him, were part of the “Freedom Fighters of Nekamah” under the legendary partisan leader Abba Kovner who help liberate Vilna. This photo was taken on July 14, 1944, the day after the city was liberated from the Nazis. (Public/Courtesy Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center)

Zenia and Leizer’s first date, Vilna ghetto, 1941:
“Leizer was too nervous to say much of anything. Zenia was so full of life she could make a stone happy. She was feminine to the core, and even in the gloom of the dirty ghetto streets she smiled and pranced as if she were promenading down a tree-lined boulevard on a summer afternoon. She was the most beautiful and vivacious girl he had ever laid eyes on, and he didn’t know what to do”.

Memories from Vilna ghetto, Lithuania, spring 1943:
“Leizer took it in silently when, out of the blue, Zenia blurted out, “I love you”. The phrase drifted into the space between them and hung there as if time could not begin again until Leizer had taken it in. “I love you, too”, he said. Despite the fact that it was difficult for him to show his feelings in public, he pulled her to him and held her for a moment, not caring who saw them”.

Zenia, joining the resistance movement, Vilna ghetto, 1943:
“No, Leizer, I don’t care anymore. If I’m going to die, I want it to be with you”.

Leizer, Vilna ghetto, Lithuania, 1943:
“Will you marry me?” – Leizer asked, then wondered where those words had come from, because he wasn’t even sure he had thought them. Immediately the doubts flooded in. Marriage simply didn’t happen in the ghetto. We’re there even any rabbis left? He might die at any moment. She would be a widow. She might follow him out of love into a situation that would leave her dead. He couldn’t do it. Marriage was for better times. “Yes”, – Zenia said. – “Yes, I will”.

Memories from Vilna ghetto, early 1943:
“Zenia rarely wanted to look at her face anymore. She was so gaunt she thought she looked more like a twelve-year-old boy than a woman now out of her teens. By that point hardly any young women had regular menstrual periods. Though they tried to laugh and say that was one good thing about the ghetto, many secretly worried that something might have gone seriously and permanently wrong with their bodies”.

Zenia, Bucharest, 1945:
“Zenia knew there were a few things that had been different about their marriage ceremony. They didn’t have a minyan, and some of the details she remembered from other weddings had been skipped. She hadn’t been overly concerned before that point, because for their whole marriage they had slept in their clothes, crammed in with others into ghetto rooms and forest bunkers, but now that they had their own bedroom, she found herself wondering whether she was living with someone to whom she was not properly married”.

Memories from Bucharest, 1945:
“Leizer still dreamed of going to Palestine. The idea of what some called “muscular Judaism”, working with his hands and his body to build a Jewish homeland, greatly appealed to him. But the conditions under which the settlers lived were very primitive, the work of cleaning fields and irrigating the parched land was backbreaking, and relations with the resident Arabs had grown very tense and often violent. For that reason, he had acceded to Zenia’s wishes to try to build a more comfortable life in the United States”.

Leizer’s memories, USA, 1948:
“He will go to a hotel that night and sleep beside Zenia in a bed with sheets that give off the smell of no past, that receive the weight of a body still not yet completely reconnected with the mind that keeps wandering, keeps seeing what it wishes to avoid. She will put her arms around him. She will smell clean, like flowers”.

Rosa and Will

After the occupation of Krakow, 20-year-old William Schiff worked as a janitor. He met 16-year-old Rosalie Baum at a dance party in 1942. A few months later, the two young lovers got married in the ghetto. And then they were deported to Plaszow. In 1943, Rosalie was transferred to the Skarzysko labour camp to work at the armaments factory. William ended up in Auschwitz. In the death camp, he worked as a physician’s assistant. In August 1944, Rosalie was sent to the Czestochowa concentration camp, where she became ill with a high fever and amoebic dysentery. There’s been an attempted rape and she almost lost her will to live. William luckily survived during the execution in Auschwitz, he was hiding under the dark cloth. In 1945, he ran away to the home of a Polish farmer. The owner gave William a free meal, and in the morning he took a few SS officers into his house. The Nazis tortured him using every form of torture. He dug his own grave and spent there three days. The prisoner Rosalie has endured a few days of profound mental agony and shock in the camp also. But the young Nazi soldier decided to help her and hide her under the wooden floor of the barrack. It’s saved her from the execution. After the war, Rosalie and William stayed in Austria. The marriage lasted all life, during which they had three children. As a big family, they emigrated to Dallas (USA).

Ilka Gedo, Self-Portrait, 1947. Digital copy of the original at exhibition “(Not) a Good Time for Love” in the Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center. (V.Petroff)

Rosalie, Krakow, September 1939:
“Right before the Germans came, I had a very vivid dream. In this dream I was looking outside through the keyhole in the front door of our apartment complex. The street was full of dead people. I remember this so well because I saw my favourite aunt, the beautiful girl who owned the dress shop, lying among the other bodies wearing a fancy hat”.

William’s arrival at Auschwitz, September 1943:
“We got our tattoos in another room from the prisoners sitting behind tables. The guards made us sit down and a little guy dipped his needle in ink and branded me like an animal. Number 174248”.

Rosalie, Skarzysko, Poland, 1943:
“A girl in my barrack was five months pregnant. When she started to show we made a cloth bandage out of a sheet and she wrapped her belly tight so the German couldn’t notice. It worked for a while but one night she woke up in labour. When the baby was born some of the girls strangled it. They felt they had to do it because if the guards found out they would kill the baby and the mother, too”.

Plaszow concentration camp, Poland, 1943:
“Standing in the dark against her barrack wall the couple can briefly share each other’s troubles and a kiss. These late-night rendezvous keep them relatively sane”.

William, accused of sabotage, Plaszow, Poland:
“She was standing there, staring at me through the fence and crying. I moved my hand across my throat to let her know we were dead men”.

Rosalie, Czestochowa, Poland, 1944:
“If I had screamed the Germans up in the watchtowers would have machine-gunned me and the idiot who was tearing off my underpants. He grabbed my throat and tried to pin me on my back while he got ready to rape me but I kicked him with my heel and hurt him. He got up and ran away. I was shaking and crying with my neck bleeding from his fingernails. You want to know how sick and upside down our lives were? What scared me the most, was the slim possibility I might have gotten pregnant. Because then the guards would have killed me and the baby”.

Rosalie, 1946:
“Back in Krakow, when the Germans were liquidating the ghetto, I saw a soldier run a bayonet through a very pregnant woman. He stuck the knife right through the hand she was using to shield her belly. Once I started to show, whenever we went outside I always covered my stomach with both hands”.

Rosalie’s memories:
“On our fortieth anniversary I finally had a proper wedding. In the video I’m all smiles until the rabbi mentions the Holocaust. Suddenly my face goes blank. I was 59 and still didn’t want to talk about it. On our sixteenth anniversary we got married a third time. By then I had told my story to 15000 school children”.

Shmuel and Inge

The Inge Katz’s family was deported from Bremen to Theresienstadt in 1942. Inge was 18 years old when she has seen the horrors of war. In Theresienstadt, she was recording the deaths of prisoners into the camp journal. The family of Shmuel Berger was sent to the same camp from Brno. The first time he saw Inge is when she was praying in the morning. On the next day, he invited her for a date. This was seen as a very dangerous step in the camp conditions. Shmuel worked on the camp’s kitchen and these relations could create a lot of rumours. Usually, the girls who were dating the kitchen workers sold their bodies for food. In 1944 Shmuel was transferred to Auschwitz, where he knew that his parents were killed in the gas chamber. In the Kaufering, subcamp of the Dachau, Shmuel fell sick with typhus himself. In 1945 the Red Army liberated Theresienstadt. After the war, Inge got a job at the Jewish Center, where she helped former prisoners in search of their relatives. In the summer she received a letter from Shmuel, he promised to come back to her. On June 24, 1947, they got married and moved to the United States, where they had two daughters – Hannah and Ruthie.

Inge Katz with her mother Marianne, 1938. (Archive/Ruth Bahar)

Inge, departing for Theresienstadt with her family, Bremen, July 24, 1942:
“Finally, the train’s whistle blew, the engines fired up, and they were on their way. As they left, Inge didn’t look out of the window at the city of her birth. There was no one left there to wave goodbye to, and Inge didn’t want to see the faces of all the non-Jews standing on the platform and pretending not to know what was happening to them”.

Shmuel, Auschwitz, autumn 1944:
“As the days passed, Shmuel and other inmates found themselves developing a black senses of humour. They would joke about how they might leave this place and that the fastest, most sure-fire way, would be via one of the crematoria’s chimneys”.

Inge and Shmuel, Auschwitz, October 1944:
“Inge had no idea what would become of Shmuel. She did not know then that, after that transport left Theresienstadt, it would not stop for several days. When it finally did, the door designed to hold animals opened.
 – Where are we? – Shmuel asked.
 – Birkenau. Auschwitz.
 – Is there anyone here from Theresienstadt?
 – There were.
 – Where? And where are they now?
 – In heaven. – was the response”.

Inge, Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia, June 1944:
“Hopefully she and her family would all be rescued, and then, maybe, she and Shmuel could finally leave Europe forever for a better life together in Palestine. Nonetheless, she did her best to stifle such thoughts as she had been disappointed so many times before. But as hard as Inge tried to keep her mind away from such hopes, she found herself drifting back to them again and again”.

Shmuel, Auschwitz, 1945:
“Why try to remain alive? Why not just give up like all of those others? The answer for Shmuel was simple: he was too terrified to die. He believed that were he to die of starvation, perhaps his hunger would continue to torment him even after death”.

Shmuel, weighing 35 kilos, Unterigling, April 1945:
“His naked body, which he hadn’t viewed in its entirety for so long, had been transformed. Now there were only bones beneath his pallid skin, and his feet had become swollen up to his ankles. No longer did he have any muscles. His pelvic bones jutted out, and the sharp pointed ends of them were partially covered with a thin crust. He felt repugnant to look at, and grew sick at the sight of his own body. Numerous white flakes began detaching themselves from his skin upon touch, dropping to the floor. He thought this was an indication that body was were now turning to dust”.

Inge on her way back home, summer 1945:
“Inge could only think about how she would feel walking down Bremen’s once-familiar streets again. She imagined that she would look straight into each resident’s surprised eyes as if to say. “Look at me. I am here. You couldn’t kill me”.

Memories from Bremen, autumn 1945:
“Over the months, Inge would find herself daydreaming while looking out the front window of her new home, imagining that at any moment Shmuel would be bounding up those front steps, looking dashing with his blond hair and sparkling green eyes”.

Renia and Ziga

This love story is one of the most tragic. Renia Spiegel died in 1942, but her loved one Zygmunt Schwarzer saved her diary. After the war, he brought seven notebooks to New York and give it to the Renia’s relatives. He kept this diary as kind of a private talisman for 60 years. In 2012, Ariana, Renia’s sister, translated it into English. Renia started to write her notes at the age of 15. In the diary, she told about her life in the grandmother’s house, about the Nazi occupation, about the ghetto in Przemysl. With warmth and tenderness, she wrote about her first date and the first kiss with Ziga. He worked underground and ferried people across to the other shore. In 1942, someone local wrote an anonymous denunciation of the Renia family. The Nazis killed Renia and whole her family in the attic of the house. Unfortunately, Ziga wasn’t in time to save her. After the death of his beloved Renia, he was sent to Auschwitz. After the liberation, Zygmunt emigrated to the United States. But this love was in his heart during all life.

Renia Spiegel (left) and her younger sister, now known as Elizabeth Bellak, wade in the Dniester River around 1935. The photo can be seen on the cover of the published edition of Renia’s Diary.
(Courtesy of Elizabeth Bellak/St. Martin’s Press)

First entry in Renia’s diary, January 31, 1939, Przemysl, Poland:
“There were storks on old linden trees, apples glistened in the orchard and I had a garden with neat, charming rows of flowers. But that’s in the past now and those days will never return. There is no Manor House anymore, no socks on old linden trees, no apples or flowers. All that remain are memories, sweet and lovely. And the Dniester River, which flows, distant, strange and cold, which hums, but not for me anymore”.

An entry in Renia’s diary, October 28, 1939, Przemysl, Poland:
“Those Russians are such handsome boys (though not all of them). One of them was determined to marry me. “Pajdyom baryshnya na moyu kvarteru budem zhyly”, etc. etc”.

An entry in Renia’s diary, January 12, 1940, Przemysl, Poland:
“You know, I go through these different phases where I choose different husbands from among the young boys around me. I must have had around sixty of those phases in my life already. Or maybe even a hundred. And od course I keep finding new husbands (I pick people out)”.

An entry in Renia’s diary, April 10, 1942:
“Falling in love with life is my new task. Adjusting to its requirements, becoming a regular romantic (if I must) to a high degree”.

“Road” by Bogna Burska. This art is a call to the analysis of women’s traumatic experiences during the Holocaust, including matters of physicality and violence. Blood traces is an ambivalent symbol, an image of vitality and death, and the ability to give life and testify to trauma. (V.Petroff)

This is not an exhibition about love – it is about the Holocaust as remembered by lovers. Imagine the glass that is customarily used to observe solar eclipses, so as not damage the retina. Love is just such a glass: ten of the eleven stories presented at the exhibition have a happy ending, otherwise no one could ever have told them. The eleventh story has only one survivor – and an unfinished diary, the memory of a beloved. April 11 is an important reminder of the plight of the countless number of people, as well as the day of remembrance of the huge number of victims from the Nazi torture. The best way to honour the memory of all those who died during the Holocaust is to tell these stories to everyone. It is a moment to not repeat the mistakes of the past and to work together for a peaceful future.

P.S.: I express thanks to the Moscow Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center for this priceless opportunity to use in my article texts of diaries and memoirs from the exhibition “(Not) a Good Time for Love”.

About the Author
Victoria Petroff (Petrova) was born in Moscow, Russia on 27 May 1988 in the diplomatic family. At the age of two, Victoria's family relocated to Czechoslovakia, where she spent her early childhood. She graduated from the Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv with a Master of Arts in International Journalism. After receiving her education, she studied business-course in London (London City University) and had an internship in the U.S. Embassy. Victoria has over 15 years of experience in the field of media. She worked in different federal (NTV Channel, Channel One Russia, Channel Russia 1) and international media. Her common documentary projects with NBC Sport (USA) were nominated for Emmy Awards. Victoria’s field of work - social and historical topics. In 2015 she joined a film industry. She working in Moscow and in London (UK). The main idea of her projects - to create cultural and social connections between different countries. She wants to tell about historical lessons, which will help to not make mistakes from the past.
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