WEST ORANGE, NJ — Holocaust survivor and West Orange resident Fran Malkin visited Roosevelt Middle School on May 22 to share her memories of a dark time in history, along with an excerpt from the documentary chronicling her experiences, “No. 4 Street of Our Lady.”
“Once you’ve experienced Fran’s story you will never forget — never forget — that you are a vanquisher of hatred, a diplomat of tolerance and an ambassador of love,” said ELA teacher Jay Wecht, who teaches students each year about the Holocaust.
Malkin is 81 and one of the few Holocaust survivors still alive. According to a New York Times article, “31 percent of Americans, and 41 percent of millennials, believe that two million or fewer Jews were killed in the Holocaust; the actual number is around six million. Forty-one percent of Americans, and 66 percent of millennials, cannot say what Auschwitz was. And 52 percent of Americans wrongly think Hitler came to power through force.” This makes Malkin’s voice even more important, especially for millennials born from 1980 to 1994, Gen Z-ers born from 1995 to 2012, and the new Gen Alphas born from 2013 to the present.
Born in 1938 in Sokal, Poland, to candy store owners Lea and Eli Letzer, Fran and her family were thrust into World War II with the invasion of Poland by the Nazis in 1939. They were uprooted and forced to live in a ghetto until Ukrainians, under the authority of the Gestapo, rounded up Malkin’s father and other prominent men in the Jewish community. Years later, the family learned he had been executed outside town after being forced to dig his own grave.
“Remember, it was not just Hitler that committed these atrocities,” Malkin told students. “Germany was a cultured, civilized nation.”
The Letzers and other family members, 12 in all, arranged to be hidden in a dark hayloft above a pigsty owned by a feisty Roman Catholic named Francisca Halamajowa and her daughter, Hela. They hid another Jewish family of three in their basement as well.
Malkin, who was 4 at the time, cried uncontrollably and it was feared she would give away their hiding spot. Dr. David Kindler, a local physician who had taken refuge with the family in the loft, fed the young girl poison to silence her after the family agreed it was necessary. Incredibly, she spit out the poison and survived; at the age of 6, the Russians liberated Poland and the family was able to leave the hayloft.
A series of moves and stays in transitional survivor camps, where Malkin contracted tuberculosis, followed, until they contacted relatives in the United States who sponsored them for immigration to Newark in 1949. Malkin learned English, graduated high school, and eventually married and had a daughter. There are 100 descendants of Malkin and her relatives alive today.
“Our sense of normalcy was destroyed,” Malkin said. “People had dreams, they had plans and were killed only because we were Jewish.”
“You are responsible for the future,” Roosevelt Principal Lionel Hush told students. “Take these messages and use them as you are writing your own stories, with no hate, but love.”
Photos Courtesy of WOSD