When the Germans invaded Poland, it became mandatory for Jews to have German documentation. Helena displays the German ID card identifying her as a washer woman. It was her work in the laundry room of a factory that enabled her to assist the ghetto fighters in Warsaw.
Lena fought against the Germans any way she could and assisted fellow Jews in the struggle to survive. Recruited by the resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, she stole uniforms – Jewish fighters wore German uniforms so the enemy would think they were Germans – and light bulbs, which were filled with kerosene and used as Molotov cocktails against German troops.
Following an escape from the ghetto, Lena was hidden by a Polish caretaker for 18 months. Later, her hiding spot was a tiny underground bunker, cramped together with eight others in a space that allowed no privacy. The psychological struggle of this experience was unbearable, and yet, Lena penned a satirical newsletter to bolster the morale of her bunker companions, who threatened to leave as conditions were so deplorable. This outward humour masked the true nature of her anxieties – her ongoing battle for body and mind. Her personal diary entries from this time reflect the gravity of her struggle.
Thursday, 16 November 1944
“I long for the splatter of autumn rain. I long for the monotonous music of raindrops beating with fine drizzle against a window pane, for the grey, melancholy, clouded November sky. And I long for the thoughts: thoughts at a twilight hour, the thoughts which, sad as they might be, never begin with the words ‘If I survive...’, and never carry the burden of doubt that all this thinking is empty and pointless, because…I will not survive anyway…”
“We dream of freedom. Freedom: this word has acquired a magical power and it means much more than it ever did before. Its meaning is quite different from what it used to be. It has ceased to be the cliché invariably linked to its cliché-companions “equality” and “brotherhood”...For us, freedom is a word which has become alive: it is our goal and our dream. It is the sky above us and the sun and the stars and the ground under our feet and the air for our lungs. It is a full stomach and a fearless look. It is the end of a hunted dog’s existence: everything that we are missing and everything for which we strive. That is freedom; because to us freedom means life.”
Helena was liberated after spending six months in the bunker. She married Alexander Goldstein and immigrated to Australia in 1949.