Celina Fein grew up in Warsaw, the seventh of nine children born to Shaja and Chaya Eisenberg. Although the family lived in a comfortable apartment and summered in the country, antisemitism was a regular part of their lives: Celina recalled that an elderly lady in her apartment building threw rocks at her as she rode her bicycle around the courtyard.
In September 1939, Germany bombarded Warsaw with terrifying force. The city surrendered within weeks. Less than a year later, the Germans established the Warsaw Ghetto and the Eisenbergs were forced to live there. They were taken in by Celina’s elder sister, Sabina, crowding together into her apartment which fell within the ghetto limits. Although Celina’s father insisted that whatever fate befell the Jews was God’s will, Celina refused to yield. "I was 15 years old at the time," she reflected, "but I had a mind of my own, and I decided that I will never follow the orders of the Germans. Whatever they will do, I will do the opposite." Roundups and deportations occurred frequently in the ghetto. Celina managed to evade capture by escaping from the ghetto, but her entire family was sent away and murdered.
A relative of Celina’s who lived outside the ghetto befriended a non-Jewish woman who knew of a German family in Wittlich who was looking for a Polish girl to help in their restaurant. With help from her older sister, Sabina, Celina secured false papers identifying her as a Pole. Posing as a Christian peasant, she traveled to Germany. The journey was both enlightening and terrifying. "I boarded the train and there were some German soldiers there and they were kind to me and they brought me a blanket. And I thought, my God, behind the wall, I didn’t deserve to live and here if they don’t know who I am, they are kind to me." Celina spent the rest of the war flinching inwardly each time her employers—who were otherwise kind—launched into an antisemitic diatribe.
Celina was liberated when American troops entered Wittlich in May 1945. Soon after, she met Ely Fein, who had fought in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943 and was the only surviving member of his family. The couple was married in June 1946 and their son, Martin, was born the following year. In 1949, the family came to the United States and settled in Louisville, Kentucky. Ely worked hard, often holding down two jobs to support the family while Celina cared for Martin and Helen, born in 1950. In 1976 the Feins moved to Houston to be near their grown children. Later that year, Celina graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in English Literature. Ely died on January 23, 1985. Celina often spoke to schoolchildren and adults about her experiences during the Holocaust.
Shaja Eisenberg, d. Treblinka
Chaya Niskenkern Eisenberg, d. Treblinka
Sabina, d. Treblinka
Israel, d. in Holocaust
Ester, d. Treblinka, 1942
Benjamin, d. 1942
Shlomo, d. Treblinka, 1942
Reniusia, d. Treblinka
Marysia, d. Treblinka