Mila Mesner was born November 22, 1923 in Zalishchyky, Poland (now Ukraine). She recalls a positive childhood, full of family and good memories. All of that changed with the beginning of the war: Mila’s town was in the Soviet zone of occupation, and she remembers that arrests and deprivation began right away. Mila’s father chose to relocate the family to nearby Kolomyja during this time; the two years under Soviet rule were not easy, but as Mila recalls the real suffering began in June 1941, when the Nazis initiated Operation Barbarossa and attacked the USSR. Mila and her family were put in the Kolomyja ghetto, where they began to deal with the hunger and uncertainty of the Shoah. Soon enough the Nazis began the liquidation of the ghetto, and Mila and her family were put on to a cattle car, destined for the gas chambers at the Belzec death camp. It was during this journey that fateful actions and decisions were made: the boards around the cattle car window were loosened, and Mila and several others decided to jump off the train and to take a desperate chance on the outcome. They knew that their friend Albin – who had helped them to survive the ghetto – would be in a position to help them again. They made their way to Chodorow, where they went into the town’s open ghetto and made contact with Albin. He made contact with a local priest and the pair produced false papers for Mila and the others who escaped the train. At that point, they made their way to Lvov, where they lived as a family, using Albin’s privileged position as a Pole of German descent to stay alive and safe. While they lived in relative comfort during those two years, there was always a fear they might be recognized and turned in to authorities. In late 1944 the Red Army was approaching Lvov, and soon Mila and her family were liberated. They decided to return to Zalishchyky, where many old friends helped them to get back on their feet. After a time they headed south and stayed in Bucharest for a few years, before leaving Europe and heading to Paraguay, and ultimately Canada. Crestwood students were fortunate to zoom with Mila Mesner in March 2022, and we thank the Montreal Holocaust Museum for this opportunity.
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