Holocaust survivor retells her heartbreaking experiences

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Laura Stetser/Sonia Kaplan, author of “My Endless War … And My Shattered Dreams,” talks about her experiences during the Holocaust to a large group on Tuesday, Dec. 4. Laura Stetser/Sonia Kaplan, author of “My Endless War … And My Shattered Dreams,” talks about her experiences during the Holocaust to a large group on Tuesday, Dec. 4.

EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP – Sonia Kaplan, now 87, was just 13 when the invasion started.

“We weren’t expecting anything, but a big noise woke us up and it was the start of the bombing,” said Kaplan, retelling of her experiences during a speech and book signing sponsored by the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society Tuesday at the township community center.

About 100 people gathered to listen to Kaplan explain the story behind her book, “My Endless War … And My Shattered Dreams.”

She said that when her family realized what was happening, her mother – who had become a widow just six years earlier after Kaplan’s father died from lung cancer – told her to take her younger siblings to the synagogue to hide out.

“The bombs were flying; we were running and people were getting killed.”

Shortly after the siege, the Russian soldiers marched in, she said. Poland was initially divided by the Nazis and the Russians, who had a nonaggression pact in place that allowed the Russians to take the eastern part of the country. The Russians seized the residents’ homes, but they were allowed to live in their emptied-out stores.

All food was under Russian control, and in order to receive it, the families had to line up and sleep overnight in the cold outside the supply stores. Often, she said, they awoke to find that the food had been stolen or sold off on the black market, and they went hungry.

For two years, the town existed under Russian control, which sadly would prove to be much better than what was to come for her and her family.

“The Nazis broke the nonaggression pact and chased the Russians off,” she said. “They first came by truck, then by motorcycle and then by foot. When I looked at their faces – the Ukrainians who didn’t like the Jews, and the German Nazis who didn’t like the Jews – I knew we didn’t have a chance.”

“Twenty thousand Jews were put in a small three-block ghetto with 16 to 18 of us in a room. Everybody was complaining; people started to die. The sicknesses were spreading. There were dead Jews in the streets, but they didn’t care,” Kaplan explained, often pausing to wipe away tears or blow her nose as she relived the memories.

Then the murders began. Kaplan said people were lined up in the streets, shot and pushed into ditches they had to dig themselves.

At one point, when the Nazis were on a killing spree, her family hid out in a bunker.

Kaplan said she had developed a defense mechanism when she was frightened that left her paralyzed and unable to hear or react to any stimulus. When the Nazis uncovered her family’s hiding place, she didn’t even realize that her entire family was dragged out and shot until she came to later, still inside the bunker, but this time all alone.

“I started calling out to my siblings, to my mother, to anyone. But no one answered. Nobody was there anymore. I realized I lost my whole family,” she said.

Kaplan then had to find her way through her new, lonely world, eventually sneaking out of the ghetto, into the helpful arms of a Polish woman who took care of her in secret for a few months, and eventually into the woods where she managed to hide until the liberation when she was just 15.

“I was all alone. I had to make all of the decisions for myself. My past life was gone. All I had left were my awful memories. I was homeless, penniless and had to begin my life again as it I was just born.”

Laura Stetser/Laura Stetser/Author and Holocaust survivor Sonia Kaplan of Atlantic City signs copies of her book Tuesday, Dec. 4 at an event sponsored by the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society. Laura Stetser/Laura Stetser/Author and Holocaust survivor Sonia Kaplan of Atlantic City signs copies of her book Tuesday, Dec. 4 at an event sponsored by the Greate Egg Harbour Township Historical Society.

Laura Stetser/Sonia Kaplan is the author of “My Endless War … And My Shattered Dreams. Laura Stetser/Sonia Kaplan is the author of “My Endless War … And My Shattered Dreams.


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