Testimony from a survivor

Woman who lived through Holocaust to tell her story at Carroll college

April 10, 2000|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Marsha Tishler did not remember her early childhood on her own. She did not on her own know how she survived the Holocaust. But her parents told her the story so often that it is seared into her memory, she said.

In 1942, Max and Zelda Leikach and their infant daughter were forced to flee their home outside the small Polish town of Kowal. They hid in the countryside.

Knowing a 3-month-old child could not survive the rigors of the outdoors, they gave her to an older, childless couple. At great risk to themselves, that Christian couple -- Alexander and Vasilina Yarmolyuk -- protected the Jewish child for three years.

"They were in danger for all the time they kept me," Tishler said.

Tishler has taped her story for the Shoah Foundation, which archives testimony of Holocaust survivors. She will tell it again tomorrow at Carroll Community College, against a backdrop that is a replica of Anne Frank's bedroom. Students built the display to observe Holocaust Remembrance Week.

While Tishler's parents occasionally found shelter in barns, they more often lived outdoors. They had no contact with the Yarmolyuks and no idea how their daughter was faring.

To this day, the Leikaches -- he is 89; she is 86 -- remember the fears and the bitter winters they endured living in the forests, their daughter said.

"Whenever we are out for a drive, my father will spot a dense clump of bushes and his first thought is that would be a good place to hide," said Tishler. "The experience is still with them."

Most of Tishler's extended family perished during the war, but her parents were reunited with their daughter. The family left Poland for a displaced persons camp in Italy. In the early 1950s, they immigrated to Baltimore.

In 1968, Tishler and her husband, Sidney, traveled to Kiev, where they met with Vasilina Yarmolyuk, the woman who 26 years earlier had nurtured a Jewish infant.

"I wanted to thank her in person," said Tishler. "I asked her why she risked her life for me. The goodness shone through her face.

"I tell the story not because it is a reflection on me. I did nothing," Tishler said. "My story shows what hatred and bigotry can do and what good people can do against evil. It was a blessing that I was able to live while 1.5 million Jewish children died. I wasn't smarter, stronger or better than any one of them."

Now 57 and the mother of two grown daughters, Tishler directs the Holocaust program at the Baltimore Jewish Council. She frequently addresses young audiences.

"The message is especially important for college students," she said. "They are our hope for the future. We have to help them make the right choices, choices that are better for all of us."

The lecture is at 6: 30 p.m. tomorrow in the Great Hall of the college, 1601 Washington Road. Information: 410-386-8000.

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