Spots of Light - Women in the Holocaust


Helen Ryba

Helen adorned her prisoner’s blouse with an orange bead.

Helen was born in Dzialosyce, Poland, in 1918. In 1939, she married Manek Apt of Bedzin. Apt was mobilized for military service immediately after the wedding; Helen never saw him again. When the ghetto was established, she fled to Zakopane and went into hiding with friends. Later, she found refuge in a village and accepted sewing jobs from Poles. After Helen escaped to Plaszów, she was given another woman’s papers in exchange for sewing a dress for a German officer’s wife, and was employed at a men’s clothing factory. She was sent on to the Skarzysko Kamienna camp, where she worked with hazardous materials. Subsequently, Helen was marched to a camp near Leipzig, where she labored in a munitions plant. The clothing that Helen received at the camp was marked with an “X” on the back, to identify her as a prisoner.

After the liberation, Helen returned to Kraków and discovered that her brother had survived. Her mother had been murdered in Auschwitz. Helen married Herman Katz and immigrated to the United States. After his death, she remarried, to Mr. Lichtenbraun.

Women retained their femininity no matter what, even on the brink of death. The prisoners asked the seamstresses to cut fitted prisoner gowns and blouses and to add collars and cufflinks, to enhance their appearance. The camp commander, SS-Sturmbannführer Hirsch, found out about the alterations. He burst into the sewing shop and roared at us, “You Jew-bitches, you’re sentenced to death and you’re being coquettish?”

Penina Arkin
From: La-Isha, 19 March 1961
Helen, Brno, 1946Helen, Brno, 1946