Hiding in plain sight

Anne Berg, Features Editor

     In this day in age, where everyone is constantly on phones day and night, it can seem like you’re always keeping tabs on someone interesting. But when was the last time you were able to truly experience a life story that is unforgettable? How about next week? Monday April 9th at 7 p.m. in Hartline, room 108, Bloomsburg University student, Shari Spaeth, is hosting an event for Holocaust Remembrance Week. Irene Skolnick will be presenting her story on her family’s Holocaust survival.

     Irene Skolnick, originally Ruth Rinde, was born in the southeastern Polish city of Przemyśl, to a prominent wealthy, orthodox Jewish family.  She was just two years old when Hitler invaded Poland. A split occurred between Germany and Russia, putting the Rinde family on the Russian side. The communist regime expropriated her family’s businesses, and her family was forced to move to Lwów (Lviv), Ukraine so her father could find employment.

    On June 22nd, 1941, Germany attacked Russia, and Irene’s family came under Nazi occupation. December 15, 1941, Jews were herded into a ghetto. As conditions worsened, Irene’s mother became convinced that staying in the ghetto was a death warrant and resolved that the family’s best chance for survival was to obtain false papers and pass themselves off for Catholic Poles.

     On September 1st, 1942, Irene’s family left Lwów for Lublin, the site of Majdanek, the second largest concentration camp in Poland.  Irene’s father obtained a job as manager at a food company owned by two Polish brothers who spoke no German.  Since all food distribution was controlled by the German authorities, Irene’s father, who was fluent in German, had almost daily contacts with the Gestapo. The family was successful passing itself for Catholics and in the process were able to hide most of her father’s family.  With armaments from the US, the Red Army successfully broke the German advance in Russia and liberated Lublin on July 22, 1942.  

     Thanks to Irene’s mother’s bold decision to pretend to be Catholic, and her father’s ability to play that role successfully amongst the Poles and the Germans, fifteen members of the family survived who otherwise would have perished in the Nazi Holocaust.  

     After the war the family immigrated to France and spent six years in Paris.  Once their American immigration papers came through, the family immigrated to the U.S. in 1952 where they settled in New York City.  Irene gained her BS in chemistry then a Masters in Library Sciences from Columbia University. She met and married Leon Skolnick then they moved to Pittsburg, PA. Here she got an MBA at Pitt, then founded Dymax, an ultrasound company endorsed by the FDA

    In her retirement, using the memoirs her father wrote together with her own memories and those of her older brother’s, Irene wrote a book recounting her family’s survival. The book is entitled In the Shadow of Majdanek, Hiding in Full Sight. A Holocaust Survival Story.

     So take some time next week to meet a truly memorable person, and hear her amazing story. Contact Shari Spaeth at [email protected] for any further questions.