And now for something very different . . . With Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, approaching this weekend, the Chronicle asked me to profile Holocaust survivors. We found two extraordinary Bay Area women to interview through the San Francisco-based Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. Both Sonia Orbuch and Mira Shelub fought alongside armed resistance fighters, or partisans, in the forests of Poland during World War II. Today Sonia’s story appeared; tomorrow Mira’s will run. Here’s Sonia:
“Sonia Orbuch does not like weakness. But today, safe in her Corte Madera townhouse with its swag curtains in soothing shades of peach, Sonia is getting teary.
You might expect tears, given the story she’s telling: how 16-year-old Sonia Shainwald fled impending slaughter in the Jewish ghetto of Luboml, Poland, and finally arrived in the forests to join the Soviet anti-German resistance. There she served as a doctor’s assistant, treating the injuries of partisan fighters who embarked on regular missions to blow up Nazi trains and disrupt communications. The amputations were horrific. Her uncle was killed. But the partisan leaders imparted one key lesson: You are not allowed to cry.
And today, Sonia insists, she would not be crying were it not for her arm, recently broken in a fall and held in a sling. Sonia, 82, is dressed down in a brown velveteen tracksuit, her weight supported by a cane and her eyes less alert than usual.
“I’m a little more emotional now because of the pain medication,” she says matter-of-factly in her faint Polish accent. She gestures to a box of See’s candy. “Have a chocolate.”
She wears her amber hair well coiffed and holds her regal nose high, and even with her eyes damp there’s no mistaking the inborn strength that must have sustained her through those war years. Sonia was always one to face hard realities. When a teenager, hiding in a crawl space from the Germans for two days with 16 other Jews, Sonia realized that her mother would not live much longer, and matter-of-factly told her father that they would have to run, as Germans were beginning to liquidate the ghetto.”