Helene Liberman was the youngest of five children born to Polish Jews Ansjel and Rebecca (Rivka) Liberman. Helene was born in Paris in 1925; the other siblings – Marie (born 1906), Dora ( born 1910), Charlotte (birth year unknown), and Maurice-David (born 1920) – were born in Poland.

Three Liberman siblings in a garden, Les Bultes-Chaumont, France, June 1930.
Three Liberman siblings in a garden, Les Bultes-Chaumont, France, June 1930. Helene (middle) is 5 years old, Maurice-David is 10, and Marie is 22 years old. Gift of Helene Dworzan. 61.89

Ansjel left Poland in 1923, moving to France. A year later, Rebecca left Warsaw with their four children and joined Ansjel in Paris.

Helene Liberman, age 5
Helene Liberman, age 5, posing with a toy dog. Paris, 1930. Gift of Helene Dworzan. 64.89.

The family was very poor. In a 1930 photo of Helene Liberman, taken when she was 5 years old, she is posed with a toy dog. She remembers crying after the photo session because she thought she would get the toy dog as a present. She never had a real toy.

Ansjel and Rebecca did not assimilate in France; they learned very little French and rarely left their house. Yiddish was the language spoken at home. Ansjel made small wood carvings of animals that their oldest child, Marie, sold. She carried the carvings in a suitcase.

Cat and Dog Wooden Sculptures
Sculpture of cat and dog. Hand carved by Ansjel Liberman. Gift of Helene Dworzan. 161.89 and 162.89.
Suitcase of Marie Liberman
Suitcase of Marie Liberman. Gift of Helene Dworzan. 71.89.

In 1942, as conditions for Jews worsened in France, the parents used the little money they had to smuggle their two youngest children, Maurice-David and Helene, to Free France. The few items Helene took with her, including a book of Baudelaire poems and a Molière textbook, were packed in the same suitcase her oldest sister had used to carry their father’s crafts.

For two years, between 1942 and 1944, Helene and a friend wandered from place to place with false papers, hiding and managing to escape each hiding place when it became dangerous.

Dora, the second oldest child of Ansjel and Rebecca, was deported to Auschwitz on Convoy 14 on August 3, 1942; on November 6, 1942, Ansjel and Rebecca were deported to Auschwitz on Convoy 42. All three died in Auschwitz.

Dora and Helene Gelrud, Charlotte Liberman and three unidentified people.
Dora Liberman Gelrud, her daughter Helene Gelrud (not Dora’s sister Helene), and Charlotte Liberman, with three unidentified individuals in Paris c. 1940-41. Charlotte is on the right and Dora is right center. Gift of Helene Dworzan. 69.89.

Helene and her other three siblings survived the war.