WEST ORANGE, NJ – On May 13, at Roosevelt Middle School, West Orange resident and Holocaust survivor Fran “Fay” Malkin shared her story of survival with students and provided an oral history of her experiences as a young child whose family was hidden in a hayloft in Sokal, Poland above a pigsty for 20 months. RMS Teacher Jay Wecht arranged the visit as part of his Holocaust curriculum.
“What you will hear today is not something that can be found in a book or on a computer screen,” said Wecht. “Take with you Fran Malkin’s message that says ‘I will not be defeated.’”
Malkin, now 76, was four years old when Polish Catholics Francisca Halamajowa and her daughter Helan Liniewyska hid 16 of her Jewish neighbors including Malkin and her family, in a hayloft above her pigsty. Approximately 6,000 Jews resided in Sokal on the eve of World War II; by the end of the war, only 33 had survived, half of them saved by Halamajowa, who received a posthumous “Courage to Care Award” from the Anti-Defamation League in 2011.
An early victim of the Sokal holocaust was Malkin's father Eli, who was rounded up along with other Sokal Jewish notables aged 14-60 in 1941, taken outside the town and shot after being forced to dig their own graves. Many of the other Jews were taken to Belzec, a death camp in Poland, where it is estimated 850,000 men, women and children died.
Malkin almost lost her own life. Unable to stop crying after they had been hidden, her family tried to poison her so that she would not give them away. The effort failed and Malkin survived, adjusting to life in hiding, until the liberation of Poland on July 19, 1944.
In 2009, a documentary entitled, “No. 4 Street of Our Lady,” detailing the story of Halamajowa and those she saved, was released. Malkin’s uncle Moshe Maltz also published his diary, “Years of Horror, Glimpse of Hope: The Diary of a Family in Hiding,” in 1996.
“What I felt throughout my childhood was that there was no normalcy,” said Malkin.
Her family was found in a refugee camp after the war by an American relative who sponsored their move to America. They settled in Newark.
“After the war, no one talked about it,” she said.
It was not until they began filming the documentary that Malkin began to talk about her experiences and memories.
“Talk to your parents and grandparents,” Malkin told the students. “Everyone has a story to tell.”
Malkin ended the assembly by taking a few questions and commenting that the world has not changed much since WWII, citing ISIS and other terrorist organizations, as well the progression of bullying.
“You follow a group because they make you feel important,” Malkin said, connecting bullying to the rise of Germany under Hitler’s rule. “But bullying always leads to more.”
“Being a victim is the worst thing you can do,” she said. “No matter what you go through, you have to prevail…you have to go on with your life. You can’t let them win.”
Click HERE for more information on Fran Letzter Malkin and Francisca Halamajowa.