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A Chanukah Miracle: Poland, 1942

A Chanukah Miracle: Poland, 1942

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Molly with her husband and child after the War
Molly with her husband and child after the War

My mother, Molly Greenberg, was born on December 22, 1924 in an Eastern European Jewish shtetl called Skala Podolskaya, located in what was then part of Poland. Her life, by any reasonable scrutiny, contained a plethora of reasons for her to have been a bitter, lifeless, misanthropic human being. After all, she was an orphan at an early age, having lost both her parents to illness - her father when she was only three months, and her mother when she was two years old. Her five older siblings, three brothers and two sisters, raised her. Her childhood was punctuated by a myriad of deprivations; nights of going to bed hungry, a sparse supply of clothing, intense loneliness, and wishing to have the attentive, protective mothering that was impossible to expect from a sister only twelve years her elder. Yet, she was blessed with a love of learning and a wisdom and understanding of people and life that was far beyond her years. Her strong belief in G‑d and His Torah was crucial to her ability to experience happiness within an uncertain world.

She lived in constant fear of discovery and extermination Whatever stability existed in my mother's world was shattered on September 17, 1939, when the Soviet army entered and seized control of Skala. That day marked the beginning of the end of a flourishing Jewish community. By the end of July 1942, it was the German military that controlled the area. No Jew in Skala was safe.

Not until my mother was older and entered her sixties could she openly acknowledge (through the written word, but still not verbally) her painful youth of living through the Holocaust. I am in the process of writing a book about her life, centering on her stories of her past. There is no question that the crimes of the past should never be forgotten. To me, her triumph over adversity, her ability to love and do more than just survive, and the powerful role G‑d played in her life are examples from which we can all learn and gain strength.

My mother was able to survive the war by pretending she was Mary (not Molly), a non-Jew. Even in this disguise, she lived in constant fear of discovery and extermination.

When we think of Chanukah, we remember the Maccabees and the miracle of the oil that occurred years ago. To me, G‑d's power and benevolence was again demonstrated by the miracle He performed on the first day of Chanukah in 1942.

Of note, in the year 2008, Chanukah begins on December 22. On that day, had she been alive, Molly Greenberg would be celebrating her 84th birthday.

What follows is a true story that my mother, Molly Greenberg, wrote explaining, in part, how she survived World War II.


Chanukah, the Holiday of Lights, is a time of joy, gratification, and festival celebrations. It is the time for latkes and jelly doughnuts. For me, Chanukah, latkes and jelly doughnuts have a special meaning. It was during World War II when Poland was occupied by the Nazis. It was in the year 1942, when the Gestapo started the process of making the cities and towns "Judenfrei," which means, "free of Jews." They would gather a large group of people and just kill them or load them into cattle trains and send them to concentration camps.

I knew I had nothing to lose After one such "pogrom," in which I lost some of my family, I felt that I must do something. I couldn't just wait there to be killed. I was a seventeen-year-old girl, blond with blue eyes and a very light complexion. I looked like a typical non-Jewish Polish girl. So I decided to go to a faraway city where nobody would know me, and no one would know that I was Jewish.

But it was easier said than done. Because I lived all my life in a small village, which I had never left before, just going on a train for the first time was a big endeavor for me, aside from the great danger the trip represented. To make sure no one was Jewish the Germans were checking everyone's passport or some other document. For a big sum of money you could get an Aryan passport, but I was very poor and couldn't obtain one. So I decided to go anyway. I knew I had nothing to lose; I would die either way.

It was December 12th, the first day of Chanukah. My sister packed a bundle with some clothes and some food for me to take on the way. I took off my yellow Jewish star, which every Jew was forced to wear on his right arm, and I went to the train station. I bought a ticket, walked into the last car and sat in the far corner, frightened to death.

I saw the Gestapo officer coming towards me All of a sudden, I heard some commotion at the door. I looked up and saw a Gestapo officer coming into the car. He was checking everybody's bundles and documents. I suddenly realized that the food that my sister had packed was a deadly weapon that could for sure kill me. She had packed Chanukah latkes and jelly doughnuts - traditional, symbolic Jewish foods. I knew then that even if by some miracle I could talk my way out of not having a Gentile document by lying - saying that I'd lost it or forgotten it at home - I could never explain the latkes and doughnuts in my bundle.

What happened in the next few minutes I can only describe as some kind of miracle. As I sat there paralyzed by fear, not being able to move or even think clearly, I saw the Gestapo officer coming towards me. At that moment, a little girl who was sitting with her mother next to me, eating an apple, suddenly stood up and ran across the car, spitting out the apple all over the floor. The Gestapo officer took one more step toward me, slipped on a piece of the apple and fell. I don't know what happened to him. I was too stunned, too flabbergasted to ask questions. I saw some people carry him out of the car and then the train pulled out of the station, taking me to my destination.

I realized then that Someone up there wanted me to survive.

Rosalie Greenberg, M.D., is a child and adolescent psychiatrist, and author of Bipolar Kids: Helping Your Child Find Calm in the Mood Storm. She is presently working on her next book, Secrets in the Suitcase: Stories My Mother Never Told Me, the story of her mother's life as a Holocaust Survivor.
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Discussion (31)
December 3, 2012
Miracles do happen!
How often we fail to see miracles when they come our way. Only in openess to G-d do we find the love of G-d toward us in those times. As we grow older our life becomes like a series of scenes in a play on the stage of life. The miracles we have experienced may be obvious or obscured depending on their magnitude of eventfulness. HaShem never leaves nor forsakes us, in truth, being always with and a part of us. It is we who draw close or wander far off. But, with His loving hand we are drawn unto Him thru Ruach haKodesh and empowered by the Will and Ways of HaShem. Today I say thank you for this article, thank you to those who endure in life to remain faithful and most of all Blessed be Our Creator and Our Heavenly Father who imparted to us His gifts, which include eternal life thru belief, abiding in and honoringG-d. May every miracle I have experienced & know them to be as such, become means of communicating the Love of HaShem toward His people and all those who believe.
Goldshak and Oberholtzer's granddaughter
Scranton, Pa.
December 2, 2012
A Chanukah Miracle
Dear Anonymous and all the kind people who have read and enjoyed my mom's Chanukah story over the years, I have finally completed "Secrets in the Suitcase: Stories My Mother Never Told Me" and it is on sale at authorhouse.com as well as other online bookstores. I am proud of having put together a collection of stories about her life, written in by my mother in her latter years. We all have so many reasons to be thankful. G-d's greatness and love is always with us. We just have to open our eyes and hearts to see His miracles all around us. Wishing a Happy and Healthy Chanukah to everyone.
Rosalie Greenberg, M.D.
New Jersey
December 2, 2012
Your amazing story touched my heart as I recalled many incidents that my beautiful mother experienced in Berlin with gestapo officers where her life was constantly in danger yet she was spared by miracles and also by another miracle her daring escape to the UK -- unfortunately her family were not so lucky -- her strength, courage, wisdom and amazing character will always be with me to this day -- she had a strong faith in G-d, prayed and lit shabbat candles -- she was never alone -- may G-d bless you for sharing your story -- Happy Hannukah--
Anonymous
plano, tx
December 21, 2011
A Chanukah Miracle
Wonderful story of hope. As an Anusim, when lilghting the candles of Chanukah, it is my hope that Hashem, Blessed be He, open the eyes of myfamily as He opened mine eyes. This have been the greatest miracle in my life. May the suffering of our past relatives be a lesson to us all to help us grow in the love of G-d.
Anonymous
Mesa, Arizona, USA
December 19, 2011
thank you
Thank you, Rosalie, and to Chabad.org and thejewishwoman.org for sharing this wonderful miracle. May Hashem strengthen you to continue to inspire us.
Jessica Klein Levenbrown
Scottsville, VA
December 8, 2010
Thank You
I am grateful for everyone's kind comments and agree that I was blessed to have such a wonderful mother. I am very proud of her writing and am glad that it provides some light and hope for others too. By the time this is posted Dear Shulamit of Orlando, Fl will have gone through her medical procedure. I hope that she knows that we all wish her strength and a good recovery. As was clear from my mom's story I am sure that G-d is by her side so she has nothing to fear and can't ask for a more powerful or loving protector.
Rosalie Greenberg, M.D.
Summit, New Jersey
December 7, 2010
a miracle to remember
You are blessed to have had a praying mother and to have put G-d first in all her situations good or bad may your lives continue to be blessed throughout your generations happy hannukah
johnette evans
dawsonville, ga
December 7, 2010
a Chanukah miracle
This is an amazing story from the annals of your Mother's painful life and she survived, obviously to produce family, and so much love that did surround her.

I read these uplifting stories and I am energized by the very visible hand of G_d in the miraculous, what lifts out of our stories, that is called, the astonishment of story, how things do turn, and even at the last possible moment, for the good. And it seems for those who experience this it is a profound blessing, and a message. It must be forever humbling to keep this cherished memory.

For those who did not make it, those countless ancestors, and I lost most of my family during those terrible years, I must believe, because I believe in God, that there is another visible miracle coming, because I deeply believe in a God of mercy.

So I say, this story isn't over. And what you have recounted is surely beautiful and touches the heart. How could it not!

We are moving into a new state of consciousness and it spells LOVE.
ruth housman
marshfield hills, ma
December 7, 2010
Happy Hanukkah!
yeah, baby!
sue
Kanata, ON
December 7, 2010
Beautiful!
As I read the article and scrolled down the page to your dear mother's photo, I experienced the essence of the Chanukah lights. What a beautiful, lit-up expression!

Thanks for a wonderful article.
EL Krause (nee Greenberg)
NJ
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