by Second Generation Storykeeper Ellen Kaidanow

My mother-in-law was born Shifra Leviatin in Dubno, Poland on an uncertain date in June. Her birth date is an educated guess, gleaned from memories of the few relatives who made it through the Holocaust. Shifra had two sisters: an older sister Perel, and a younger sister, Bela.  Her parents owned and operated a candy store, and although they were not wealthy, they provided her family with an above-average life.

The family had a housekeeper and nanny named Lena who took care of the girls while both parents worked. Shifra’s mother was barely home, so Lena was like a mother to her, and Shifra adored her.

Shifra’s early life was normal, happy, and healthy. She was literally a kid in a candy store! Her family lived in a mixed neighborhood of Jews and Christians on Paienska Street. Many thought this was the prettiest street in Dubno. Shifra felt lucky because she lived in a nice house across the street from a beautiful park where she played.

Shifra had an Aunt and Uncle named Jenia and Rubin who also lived in Dubno. Aunt Jenia and Shifra had a special relationship. Jenia doted on Shifra, taking her on outings into town and spending play time with her while her mother worked at the candy store.

One day, Uncle Rubin heard that the Nazis were coming and terrible things were about to happen to the Jews in Dubno. So Uncle Rubin and Aunt Jenia gathered a few possessions, and left Dubno to travel to Russia with their one-year old son, Victor. They stopped at Shifra’s house to convince Shifra’s mother and father to gather the girls and come with them, but Shifra’s mother would not go. They had built a business there – their candy store — and had recently moved into their nicer home on Panienska Street and she didn’t want to leave it all behind. It was incomprehensible to think that everything they had would be stripped away from them.

Read a Wartime Slice of Ellen’s story

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