As a child in Łódź, Poland, Helen Colin was hardly aware that there was “a difference between a Jew and a Gentile.” Helen’s father was a builder who worked with non-Jews and was active in civic affairs. Her mother, a homemaker, created a warm and loving environment for her four children, sheltering them from antisemitism and rumors of impending German attack.
The German invasion of Poland in September 1939 shattered Helen’s illusions of security. In February 1940, the Germans established a Jewish ghetto in Łódź, where Helen’s family resettled in a cramped apartment. Together, the close-knit family suffered hard labor, overcrowding, and slow starvation. One day, Helen’s father failed to return from his work detail. It was Helen and her older sister, Stefa, who identified his body in the crowded cemetery: “We came to the face and we saw Daddy with his eyes wide open as if to say, ‘Do something for me.’ I shall not forget this face ever.” With their father gone, survival became more difficult than ever for Helen’s family. In early 1944, Helen married Kopel Colin, a family friend. Her motivations were both emotional and practical. “We got married,” said Helen matter-of-factly, “because we got an extra ration.”
The Germans began to deport the remaining Jews from the Łódź Ghetto to the death camps in the summer of 1944. Together with her husband and her family, Helen was sent to Auschwitz, where her mother and younger sister were murdered immediately. Helen and Stefa were inducted into forced labor, first in a munitions factory and later clearing rubble, and were finally sent to the concentration camp of Bergen Belsen. They endured starvation, injury, and unremitting terror. Usually optimistic, Helen sank into despair. Only Stefa’s unyielding determination kept her alive.
British troops liberated Bergen Belsen on April 15, 1945—Helen’s birthday. Together with her sister, she enjoyed a birthday feast: an entire potato. After liberation, Helen was reunited with Kopel. They came to New York City in 1945. Five years later, they moved to Houston, where Stefa and her husband had settled. Helen and Kopel raised two daughters and, together, ran Colin’s Jewelers for 35 years. Helen was active with the Houston Survivor Speakers Bureau. She spoke to thousands of children about her experiences during the Holocaust.
Josef Goldstein, d. Łódź Ghetto, 1942
Miriam Fried Goldstein, d. Auschwitz, 1944
Celinka d. Auschwitz, 1944
Romek, d. Auschwitz, 1944
Kopel Colin, survived