Liliana C. Shepard, Holocaust survivor, dies

She chronicled her experiences in the Warsaw Ghetto and was only surviving member of her family

  • Liliana C. Shepard
Liliana C. Shepard
April 14, 2011|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Liliana C. "Lilly" Shepard, a Holocaust survivor who chronicled her experiences being trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto with other Jews in a 1980 book, died April 7 of cancer at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.

The longtime Ellicott City resident was 85.

The daughter of an engineer and a homemaker, Liliana Cukier was born and raised in Kalisz, Poland. Her formal education ended when the Nazis invaded her homeland in 1939.

"Then came September 1, 1939, the date Poland and the world will never forget. From that day on the blood of Polish soldiers, women, and children flowed," wrote Mrs. Shepard in her book, "Liliana's Journal: Warsaw 1939-1945," that was published by Dial Press. She was 13 at the time of the invasion.

"War was my place of learning, and German soldiers were my teachers," she wrote.

"Modern cities full of life, built during the twenty-year period of Polish independence, were crushed and all that remained was rubble … then the door burst open and my grandfather ran in waving a small newspaper. 'Special edition — extra — war with Germany!' That was September 1, only hours before German tanks crossed the border," she wrote.

Mrs. Shepard wrote of the chaotic, traffic-clogged roads, as Polish citizens, traveling at night, many in horse-drawn wagons packed high with family members and possessions, fled east to avoid the rushing German advance.

She remembered the radio finally going dead. They traveled through burning villages and towns that had been bombed by German aircraft.

When German and Russian forces partitioned Poland by treaty, Mrs. Shepard wrote, "everyone seemed to want to stay with the Russians, especially those of us who were Jews. We knew, or thought we knew, what they had done with the German Jews.

"Later we learned that when they took Austria and Czechoslovakia, one of their first acts was to send all the Jews to concentration camps."

Eventually, Mrs. Shepard and her family returned to Warsaw, and by the spring of 1940, the Germans announced and enforced stringent laws governing behavior of the Jews, including ordering them to wear a blue Star of David on their upper left arms.

"The penalty for not wearing them was concentration camp or death," she recalled in her memoir. "Then the hell started."

Gangs of thugs roamed the streets as Jewish stores and shops were targeted for attack. Eventually, walls were erected in the Jewish quarter to contain citizens in what would come to be known as the doomed "Warsaw Ghetto."

By the winter of 1941, food was scarce in the ghetto and the Germans turned off the gas. Mrs. Shepard managed to get a job in a factory in 1942 that manufactured glue and ink for the army, and later in an ammunition factory.

In the summer of 1942 came the order "Relocate the Jews," she wrote, and this action eventually resulted in her parents and grandparents being deported to concentration camps, where they died.

According to official estimates, the Germans deported to concentration camps or murdered more than 300,000 Jews in the ghetto between July 22 and Sept. 12, 1942.

"They took them — nobody knew where — just as months before they had taken my mother and the rest of my family and all the other families," Mrs. Shepard wrote. "I will never find their graves; they were burned in the ovens in the concentration camps and their ashes thrown in the wind … and I will never know how they suffered before their deaths."

German forces moved into the ghetto on April 19, 1943, in an effort to eliminate all Jews remaining there. They were met with armed resistance in what has become known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

"They had arms but there were too few left to do any good," Mrs. Shepard wrote. "But they did fight, and miraculously held out with small arms against German tanks and artillery for several weeks. At least they had the satisfaction that they had died fighting."

By May 16, 1943, with some 7,000 Jews killed, the uprising came to an end, with the remaining survivors deported to concentration or slave labor camps.

Mrs. Shepard was 18 when she married a man named Anek, a member of the Polish underground, who was able to get new identification papers for his wife, whose new name was Stefania Bujanowska, after the Germans ordered new identification papers for all Poles.

He was later wounded by machine gun fire on the fifth day of the uprising, defending a barricade.

Colleagues of his "dragged him to a nearby house, but could not save him. Before he went into a coma he had told them to take care of me," she wrote. "They had to promise him that when the war was over they would find me and take care of me as the wife of a soldier who died defending his country."

After Poland fell under Russian domination at the end of World War II, Mrs. Shepard left Poland and traveled to New York City and finally El Salvador, where she lived with an aunt and uncle.

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