Paula Balter Lebovics was born in Ostrowiec in September 1933. She lived in a religious home. Her parents Israel and Perla Leah Balter, worked in the store owned by her grandfather Akiva Rosset.
Paula's siblings were Herschel, Jonathan, Chaya, Chana, and Josef.
During the Holocaust, Paula went into hiding with her brother Herschel with over 30 others. Her mother Perla and Paula, and possibly Paula's other sisters, were transported in Aug 1944 to Auschwitz.
After the war, Paula eventually moved to Detroit, Michigan; her brother Herschel moved to Australia.
Excerpt of Paula's testimony
I was born Pesa Balter on September 25, 1933, in Ostrowiec Kielecki, Poland. My recollections of my family before and during the war years are seen through the eyes of a child.
I lived with my parents, Israel and Perla Leah, and five siblings, Herschel, Jonathan, Chaya, Chana, and Josef. Our house was in a courtyard behind a large building owned by my grandfather Akiva Rosset. He was a well-to-do businessman in the liquor, forestry, and shoe and leather business. He built houses for all of his children within this courtyard. As a child, I was surrounded by family, other children, and lots of activity. Everyone in our family worked for my grandfather. My mother worked in the family shoe store housed in his building. The building still stands on Aleja 3 Maja in Ostrowiec today.
I was the baby of the family and about to celebrate my sixth birthday when the Germans took over our town. I was nine when they began rounding up the Jews. Those who were “chosen” during the first selection would be transported to Treblinka for immediate extermination, although we didn’t know that at the time. My uncle Natan Rosset and my eldest brother, Herschel, dug a hole under a shed where our family and extended family, about forty-four people altogether, hid underground. We only had enough food for one day, thinking that the selection process would last that long, but it went on for three or four days. Herschel told us he would let us know when it was safe to come out. From inside, I peered through the cracks to the roadway above, where the Germans were marching women and children for deportation to the town square. I saw women begging to be killed in place of their children, while soldiers ripped the children from their mothers’ arms and shot them and left them on the road.
After hiding for three days, Herschel told Chaya and Chana that they could come out because he thought their work papers would assure their safety. Their work papers did not save them. I was nine years old when Chaya and Chana were taken to Treblinka, where the Nazis would murder them. When my brother found out what had happened to my sisters, he lied to my mother to spare her grief. And though I was just nine, I knew what had happened to my sisters.
During the second selection, which took place in the winter, I was again put into hiding, this time with my mother and brother Josef. When it was over, we were brought back into the ghetto. I saw patches of pink snow on the ground and was keenly aware of what had caused the snow to turn pink.
A labor camp was built outside the ghetto, surrounded by ditches and enclosed with a barbed wire fence. The Germans wanted to empty the ghetto and reassign everyone to the labor camp as their slave laborers. My parents were taken to the labor camp, but I was too young to work, so I escaped with the help of Josef, who was only fourteen. The two of us went into hiding again, this time in a brick factory on a big compound just outside the ghetto. We would hide in one place during the day (sometimes with other children) and another place at night. Once we hid in a big iron vat until my feet began to swell. Another time we moved to a place overrun with rats. My brother left me there and decided to go out and find work in the labor camp. I remember deserting the rat-infested hiding place and walking out into broad daylight. I thought I too could find work.
But I was caught by a Ukrainian guard who grabbed me, tied my hands together, and walked me to the gate of the brick factory where an SS guard was in charge. A group of women were gathered near the gate waiting to go back to the labor camp. I saw my mother with them and tried to run to her. Although the women attempted to hide me, the SS guard pulled me out by the hand and threw me up against a wall. I must have passed out, because when I came to, everyone was gone except for the German SS guard. He was looking for other children who may have been hiding in the brick factory, and he wanted me to show him where they were. I told him I didn’t know where any children were hiding. I had the nerve to ask if he didn’t find other children would he please let me see my parents one last time. In my mind he agreed to this. After a futile search for children in the factory, he took me to the wall. But instead of letting me go, he pulled out his gun, held it to my head, and yelled for me to turn around. In a brave act of defiance I refused to turn around for him. I wanted him to keep his promise. At that very moment, he was distracted by laughter from a drunken comrade walking by. The soldier said to the SS guard (in German, though I understood because I spoke Yiddish), “Don’t waste a bullet on her. She’ll soon be dead anyway.” By some miracle the SS guard released me and I walked to the labor camp to become a worker.
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