Her time on the run


Holocaust survivor, Dorothy Greenstein, recounts her experience during WWII in German occupied Poland to an at maximum capacity audience at CSUB’s Multipurpose room on April 17.

Ruben A. Perez, Reporter

By Ruben A. Perez


Holocaust survivor Dorothy Greenstein was speaking at California State University of Bakersfield as the school was celebrating The Days of Remembrance.

The Days of Remembrance are to remember the events of the Holocaust. A room filled from wall to wall to hear her story greeted Greenstein. Her story is an incredible one of perseverance and hope in one of the worst tragedies in the world.

Greenstein lived in Warsaw, Poland and clearly recounted the invasion of Nazi soldiers.

“Bombs were falling and our house shook,” she said. “We were lucky our house was not hit.”

Days after the bombing, Nazi soldiers moved in and quickly removed the people’s rights.

“I’m 8 years young, and I see the Nazis walking with the shiny boots and everyone had a gun and they were singing,” she said. “The first thing they did, they announced Jewish children were not allowed to go to school.”

Unfortunately, the day of the bombings Greenstein was supposed to start the third grade. Soon after Nazis started to place notices around town that people had to turn in radios. After that, only Jews had to turn in their furs and leathers.

“The Nazis knew psychologically how to get us lower and lower and we didn’t expect anything else could fall.”

Greenstein’s father was a rabbi and also inspected meat to make sure it was kosher. In order for him to do his job, she took a knife and went one way and her father would go another. The two would meet up and she would give him the knife so he could do his job.

One day, a soldier caught on and she ran to her house and. Her mother threw all the knives out of the house. The soldiers knowing they had the right house and wanted to arrest her father. As he was not there, they took her two brothers as hostages.

To get her brothers free, her older sister took a suitcase of money to the mayor and had to bribe him to let them go.

Unfortunately, her situation worsened as her family was moved into the ghettos. Greenstein was small enough to where she was able to fit through a hole in the fence of the ghetto and was constantly sent with money to get some food for her family to eat. The people of Poland were not always complacent to let the Jews sneak out of the ghettos.

“They would catch the Jew and say all Jews have money,” she said. “Give me money or I’ll take you to the Nazis. If somebody didn’t have the money they were taken to the Nazis to be killed.”

Luckily, Greenstein’s looks helped her in not getting caught.

“I have dark blue eyes, light hair, my Polish is perfect to this day, and I have a Polish face on top of it.”

Originally, she only brought back small items like bread and salt, but as she grew older she became more able to sneak food into the ghetto.

When the time came to empty the ghettos to go to the work camps, her father told her to run off and find her older sister and hide with her. On her escape from the ghetto she found a small fence but didn’t notice the Nazis at first.

“The Nazis were standing every few feet, but I was oblivious because I listened to my father and he said run to Rachel. The Nazi come looks at my face, blue eyes, light braids and a Polish face and he thought I’m Polish.

“The Nazi himself took me over and saved me.”

When she found where her sister was hiding, she waited with them until Nazis came by to search houses with dogs. She was told she had to leave or else the Nazis would find them and punish all of them. This would be a recurring episode in her struggle to not be caught.

While hiding in a woman’s cornfield, she was found by a ranger with a German Shepard. She made a quick prayer to her father, something she did often in her time hiding. The woman that owned the cornfield went outside and immediately went to Greenstein’s defense and shouted at the man, “‘You call yourself a good Christian. I see you in a church every Sunday. Leave the child alone’ and he did.”

She couldn’t stay with the woman anymore and needed some sort of document that said she is actually Polish and not Jewish. Her sister had given her some money and told her to go to a woman in Krakow, Poland to get the papers. She did as instructed, and searched the cemetery for a baby who was born and had died in the same year she was born.

With this information and the little money she had, she was able to get her papers saying she was a Polish citizen, not a Jew. She went to find a job.

When she went to the woman’s house she gave the woman an offer she couldn’t refuse. “Keep me a month, you don’t have to give me any money. If I can’t do the work I’ll leave.”

She was hired and immediately went to work. Unfortunately, they caught on and asked if she was a Jew. Feeling she was in trouble, she left.

She bought another newspaper and found a new job working for a doctor.

She stayed with the doctor and her family a while until the city was bombed again and the city evacuated. During the evacuation she became sick and luckily they found a hospital. When they got there, the doctor claimed that Greenstein was her third child and helped her get seen by a doctor. Because of her sickness, she would have to get a shot every week; meanwhile the doctor had made plans to rent a room in a nearby village.

After the war, she got another job as a mother’s helper in her hometown of Warsaw. Her sister found her and took her back home.

For years, Dorothy Greenstein had managed to avoid capture and being sent to a work camp with only a second grade education. Of her family, five of the ten had survived the holocaust.

She currently travels and tells her story to universities and also shares it at the museum of tolerance in Los Angeles where the museum is located.