Surviving the Holocaust: One Adirondacker’s Story
by Niki Kourofsky
“One sunny April day, Uncle Emil returned, this time to take me. Once more, we rode the train back to Warsaw, back to Aunt Ada’s house. Sitting on the scratchy wooden bench, I watched the countryside roll by.… I watched the white country houses with curtains, the villages with thatched roofs and old churches, the fields ready for planting, cows and horses grazing quietly on the lush green meadows. I closed my eyes and the rhythm of the wheels passing over the joints in the rails soon lulled me to sleep.”
That idyllic spring scene, from My Nine Lives, a memoir by Lake Clear’s Dana Fast, was a hiccup of peace in Fast’s war-torn youth. Just months before this train ride—to a new life posing as a Catholic school girl—she was struggling for survival in the Warsaw Ghetto. A month after the trip she would get word that her father was dead, shot in the streets by the Gestapo.
Fast, now 81, was eight when the Germans marched into Poland, but she starts her story with a sketch of her home in Warsaw before the catastrophe—B.C., as she calls it—a comfortable existence in an upper-middle-class, secular Jewish family. The war, she writes, first came to her through “whispered, agitated adult conversations.” It became real on a sunny September morning, when the family packed up their belongings and joined the “swollen river of humanity, flowing east, bathed in dust and fear.”
At first it all seemed a great adventure to the little girl, then known as Lilka Miron, but soon the German bombers came, and the bullets, the hunger and the thirst. In the next five years Fast lived many different lives: as student in a secret school in the Warsaw Ghetto, walking past starving children and newspaper-covered corpses; as an escapee hiding on a small village farm; as a devout Catholic at the Sisters of Charity orphanage; as a boarder with her widowed aunt, who had claimed Volksdeutsche (ethnic German) status, making Fast an outcast at school.
Despite countless close calls, Fast was among the lucky who made it through the war, finally settling down near Saranac Lake. She calls her 35-year tenure in the Adirondacks—and her work as a master gardener—her “last reincarnation.” She writes, “I moved here because I always dreamed about living in the mountains.… I love this place … the cold snowy winters, the mild but not very hot summers, and most importantly, the very nice, friendly people in this small village where everybody knows your name.”
Look for a copy of Dana Fast’s riveting memoir, which was published in January by the Polish-Jewish Heritage Foundation, in Saranac Lake at Wendy’s Place, Books & Baskets or the Community Store, or in Lake Placid at The Bookstore Plus. The book is also available by contacting her daughter Yvona Fast through www.wordsaremyworld.com.