Houston’s Survivors

Vera Blum*

Born: Vera Olejniczak
February 26, 1932
Berlin, Germany

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“I didn’t have a childhood…”

When sisters Thea Singer and Vera Blum were very young children, they enjoyed playing with the non-Jewish children in their Berlin apartment building. After Hitler became Chancellor of Germany in 1933, the Nazis imposed a series of laws intended to cut the Jews from Germany’s social and economic life. The sisters remembered shortages, food rationing and curfews. “We could not have any milk. No meat, no white bread and vegetables. We could just have a sweet potato.”

In 1940, their mother, Cella, gave birth to a third daughter, Gilda. The family managed to stay together until 1942, when the girls’ father, Max, was ordered to report to police headquarters for what he thought was a routine appointment. He did not come back. Later, the family learned that he had been sent to Stettin, a concentration camp north of Berlin. After Max’s disappearance, Cella went into hiding with her three girls. Taking advantage of the chaos offered by Allied bombing raids, they moved from house to house, sometimes living among ruins. They were constantly hungry. One day Cella went out in search of food and did not return. She had been arrested and incarcerated at Gestapo headquarters.

Fortunately, an acquaintance named Hela Falkenstein invited the girls to live with her. Hela had been a convert to Judaism, but she converted back to Christianity after Hitler came to power in order to protect herself and her family. “She really saved us, that we are here today,” reflected Vera. Until 1945, the girls spent much of their time in the relative safety of Hela’s home, although they also lived on their own sometimes. The sisters took shelter in the bombed out shells of buildings, sometimes bartering the family’s jewelry for food.Thea, Vera and Gilda were at Hela’s apartment on the day in February 1945 when their mother reappeared, having been released from the Gestapo prison where she had suffered beatings and starvation. When the war ended several months later, Max returned as well. Although he recovered physically, emotional healing came much more slowly. For months, he jumped in terror every time he saw someone in a uniform.

In November 1945, Thea and Vera departed for Palestine with a group of other young survivors. Their parents and Gilda followed in 1948. Both Thea and Vera served in the Army during Israel’s War of Independence. Thea, Vera, Gilda and their parents eventually settled in Houston. Vera and her husband Lee Blum, a survivor of Auschwitz, have two children, Bernice and Marvin. Together, Lee and Vera owned and operated a furniture store.

Max Joseph Olejniczak (Olin), survived
Cella Moszkowicz Olejniczak (Olin), survived

Thea Olejniczak, survived
Gilda (Gitl) Olejniczak, survived