Rachel’s Story

Rachel was born on August 9, 1928 in Limanowa, Poland, near Krakow. She was the second eldest of four sisters. She was three years younger than her older sister, Bronka. Her younger sisters were Chanka and Zvetla. They all lived in a small house with their parents, Mr. and Mrs. Dershowitz. All of the girls shared one bedroom. There was no electricity or running water in Rachel’s house. Water had to be brought from a well and warmed on the stove. Nonetheless, the girls found many ways to have fun and enjoy themselves.

Rachel Dershowitz, 1947.
Rachel Dershowitz, 1947.

Mr. and Mrs. Dershowitz, who kept a traditional home and a kosher kitchen, felt it was important for them and their family to celebrate all of the many Jewish holidays throughout the year. Mr. and Mrs. Dershowitz would start the Jewish year off in the fall by going to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur . Then, in the cold darkness of winter, the family would light their Chanukah menorah on the window sill, and steam would cover the windows so that the girls could draw pictures on the glass. Everyone would sing songs, play games, and eat potato pancakes. Then, in the spring, the family would begin to prepare for Passover , cleaning out every corner of the house, even turning out their pockets to look for crumbs. The night before Passover , they would climb up to the attic and bring down all the beautiful, special dishes. Then, all the women in the neighborhood would get together at the bakery to make matzah for the holiday. While making the matzah , the women would sing, and the children would run around them in celebration.

“On Fridays there was a wonderful atmosphere.”
—Rachel Dershowitz

On the holidays and on Shabbat, the Dershowitz girls were always clean. They wore new clothes and new shoes. Their shoes were special, because Mr. Dershowitz owned a leather store. The family members could choose the color of the leather, and then Mr. Dershowitz would bring it to a cobbler to make the shoes. Rachel knew that her mother had a closet full of shoes. In Rachel’s eyes, her mother was the most elegant of all the women she knew.

When Rachel started going to school, she made friends with some of the girls in the area who were not Jewish. Some of her friends were Christian, and she felt comfortable going to their homes to play. They would go out for walks and play outside in the beautiful scenery of the Carpathian Mountains. But sometimes at school someone would yell out, “Jew, what are you doing here?” and Rachel was faced with the reality of the antisemitism that was commonplace at this time in Poland.

In the afternoons, Rachel and her sisters went to a Jewish school which their father helped to organize, called Beis Yaakov . This religious school was located in a building that had two small rooms filled with wooden benches. The school was only for girls, and Rachel had a lot of fun learning, reading, singing songs, and dancing with her classmates.