Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project
preserving the past to protect the future...

I Survived
the 20th Century Holocaust

Charlene Schiff (Shulamit ) born in 1929 is one of two known survivors among the 5,000 Jews in her hometown Horochow in Poland. Ms. Schiff's goal is to fight the "four I's":
Ignorance, Injustice, Intolerance, and Indifference.
Ms. Schiff is a speaker affiliated with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Surviving the Holocaust in her own words:

I was born in 1929, Shulamit Perlmutter, and I was known as Musia. I was the youngest of two daughters born to a Jewish family in the town of Horochow, 50 miles northeast of Lvov. My father was a philosophy professor who taught at the university in Lvov, and both of my parents were civic leaders in Horochow. I began my education with private tutors at the age of 4.

In September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, and three weeks later the Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland, where our town was located. Hordes of refugees fleeing the Germans streamed through our town. Soviet rule didn't change our lives very much. We remained in our home and Father continued to teach in Lvov. The most important change for me was at school; we were now taught in Russian.

In 1941 the Germans invaded the USSR and set up a ghetto in Horochow. In 1942, with rumors that the ghetto was about to be destroyed, Mother and I fled. We had just hidden in the underbrush at the river's edge when we heard shots. We hid, submerged in the water, all night as machine guns blazed in the ghetto. By morning others were hiding in the brush and I heard a Ukrainian guard scream, "I see you there Jews; come out!" Most obeyed, but we hid in the water for several more days as the gunfire continued. Sometimes we would doze; once I woke to find Mother had vanished.

I never saw my mother again and never found out what happened to her. I spent the rest of the war living in the forests near Horochow. I was the only survivor of my family.

In 1941, in the summer, all of a sudden we heard bombs and the airplanes flying overhead, and after a few days the Germans marched in very much like the Russians did a few years ago, and again, I mean there was no bloodshed as far as I can recall. They came in with tanks. They came in--the soldiers looked much, they were much, uh, better dressed--and they came in and people again greeted them with flowers, and they were very welcome in our town. A lot of people were very happy that the Germans came in, and that the Russians were leaving. If there were fights, they were outside of the town so really, there was very little fighting in Horochow. But 1941, early summer, was when the world became completely topsy-turvy for the Jews. When the Germans came in, from the very beginning, they concentrated and they let it be known that the Jews are the ones that they are going to try to murder, all of us. What they did, I don't recall if it was the first or second day after they come into, came into Horochow, they went around with a list and they looked for people by name. These were people who were leaders, the Jewish leaders, and my beloved father was among them. They came into the house, they burst in, and they asked for him, and my father saw them, he tried to get out the back way. They caught him, and they led him away. He never even said goodbye. I'll never forget that look in his eyes.


In the very beginning, my mother and several other women organized a clandestine school for children who were below the age of work, and it was a wonderful thing because we had something to look forward to. It made us forget about the hunger and about all the, the inadequacies of living such a primitive life, and this school existed for several months. Several of the ladies, including my mother, would barter on the outside and they came home with crayons, with writing paper, with some books, and I mean they would tell stories, we would sing and we would color, and it was something to look forward to. It was really, uh, if it, if it only could have lasted, but it didn't. It lasted a few months, and pretty soon there was not enough, uh, uh, jewelry or money to barter with, there were no more supplies, school supplies, and the morale sort of sagged in the ghetto. And the women came home, and they were too tired, and too hungry, and too beaten up to be able to go and, and put on a happy face for us kids. So that disintegrated into nothing also.

I was, and I'm speaking from a personal point of view, and I know I'm not the only one, there I was, an orphan, a survivor of unspeakable pain and atrocities of the war, and nobody extended a helping hand during the war. Now, after the war, wouldn't you think we would have priority to go out or to get out of Germany? But no, I had to wait three long years. There were quotas. There were always quotas.

There were quotas to get into the United States. My...when I finally did get a hold of my family in the United States --because I remembered my grandmother's address-- I still, I mean, they guaranteed that I would not be a burden to the government, and yet I had to wait three long years before I was allowed to come to the United States. Meanwhile, I, I tried on my own to get a student's visa, and I attended the University of Heidelberg for almost--well, over a year, but, uh, that would have given me a student visa. I must say that the people at the University of Heidelberg bent backwards to accommodate me. There were such a gaps in my education, formal education. It was nonexistent, and yet I took some tests and they helped me and I was accepted as a full-time student. And, uh, I will never forget that. I'm grateful for that. But I still had to wait three years to come to the United States, and I don't think that was right, to treat us in such a way.