1939:Jewish Families on the Brink of War
"Suddenly the Skies Darkened"

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The time is now 4 PM. The cannon fire hasn't ceased for the last 20 hours. Artillery shells explode every second, and the shrapnel falls like a hail of steel. Whistling, bombardments, the noise of machine guns and the thundering of the airplanes overhead reverberate in the air and increase our terror. Our ears and heads ache. We can't hear each other talk. Only boom boom boom! Another pillar of fire and smoke. Roofs are billowing smoke. A row of houses in the center of town is engulfed in flames. Suddenly, a terrible noise followed by groans and screams – houses have collapsed in the old city, and we run to save those who have been buried alive under the debris. Suddenly the skies darkened – a cloud of smoke descended on the city.

Mira Zabludowski wrote these words on 15 September 1939 in the diary she kept during the first months of occupation in Warsaw. Mira came to visit her parents, lawyer Dr. Simcha Zabludowski and his wife Elisheva, and was caught in the eye of the storm. In late November 1939, she managed to leave Poland and return to her home in Eretz Israel (Mandatory Palestine). Her parents were murdered in the Holocaust.

On 1 September 1939, Nazi Germany invaded neighboring Poland, and Poland ceased to exist. Central Poland became the Generalgouvernement, occupied territory under German civilian rule, western Poland was annexed to the German Reich while the eastern territories were occupied by the Soviet Union. At the same time that the Jews of Germany, Austria and Poland were being subjected to Nazi persecution and terror, anti-Jewish measures were instituted in other European countries allied with Nazi Germany.

From Our Collections

This exhibition presents the fate of the Zabludowskis and other Jewish families in 1939 and during the Shoah. The stories include that of a group of children who left Reich territory in 1939 on the Kindertransport and reached England. The children survived, but their families were murdered. The stories emanate from items in the Yad Vashem Archives and collections, donated to Yad Vashem for perpetuity by survivors and by relatives of the victims.

In Their Own Words

Wedding in Kielce, Poland on the eve of World War II

Holocaust survivor Sarah Berman Lerner née Goldglas talks about the wedding of her brother Mordechai Goldglas and Dobra-Rachel Feigenblatt in Kielce, June 1939.

We Lost an Entire World

Holocaust survivor Sarah Berman Lerner, who lived in Warsaw, Poland before the war, talks about losing her family in the Holocaust.

Parting from Family

Holocaust survivor Margarete Klein née Beck describes the wrenching separation from her family in Vienna on the eve of her departure to England in February 1939.