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Survivor Portraits – Helena (Lena) Goldstein (1919-2019)

This month we introduce Helena (Lena) Goldstein. Lena was born in 1919 in Lublin, Poland. She was moved to the Warsaw ghetto, from which she eventually escaped.

Lena was recruited by the resistance movement in the Warsaw ghetto to fight against the Germans in any way she could, and assisted fellow Jews in the struggle for survival. Lena stole uniforms and light bulbs, which were filled with kerosene and used as Molotov cocktails against German troops.

Following her escape from the ghetto in 1943, Lena was hidden by a Polish caretaker for 18 months. Later, her hiding spot was an underground bunker, cramped together with eight others in a space that allowed no privacy. The psychological struggle of this experience  was unbearable, and yet, Lena penned a satirical newsletter to bolster the morale of her bunker companions, who threatened to leave as conditions were so deplorable. This outward humour masked the true nature of her anxieties. Her personal diary entries from this time reflect the gravity of her struggle.


Thursday, 16 November 1944

“I long for the splatter of autumn rain. I long for the monotonous music of raindrops beating with fine drizzle against the window pane, for the grey, melancholy, clouded November sky. And I long for the thoughts: thoughts at twilight hour, the thoughts which, sad as they might be, never begin with the words ‘If I survive…’, and never carry the burden of doubt that all this thinking is empty and pointless, because…I will not survive anyway…”

Lena was liberated in January 1945, after spending 6 months in the bunker. She married Alexander Goldstein and immigrated to Australia in 1949.

In this photo, Lena holds her German ID card identifying her as a washerwoman in a laundry. On display in the Museum is Lena’s diary, which she kept during her time hiding in the bunker.

To read more from our Survivor Portraits blog series, click here.

To explore the personal stories and anecdotes of Holocaust survivors, click here for our first online exhibition.

Lena’s story is featured in the book We Are Here: Talking with Australia’s Oldest Holocaust Survivors. To purchase a copy of the book, click here.


Photograph by Katherine Griffiths.

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