'My world changed overnight': 87-year-old Edith Jucker shares her Holocaust survival story

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Thursday, May 30, 2024
Jewish American Heritage Month: A Holocaust survival story
Edith Jucker, an 87-year-old Meyerland woman, shares her Holocaust survival story with ABC13 during Jewish American Heritage Month.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Edith Jucker was only 2 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland, triggering the start of World War II on Sept. 1, 1939. However, she still vividly remembers when her 26-year-old mother decided to leave everything behind and run for their lives with two of her uncles and their families.

"My world changed overnight. My father was immediately drafted into the Polish Army," Jucker said. "We were running with hundreds of others through the forest covered with leaves and underbrush. I couldn't run as I was too little to keep up, so my mother carried me. She essentially gave me life twice."

During the dangerous trek, they separated from the rest of their family in the forest once they reached the river and jumped into different boats. However, Russian soldiers surrounded them, thinking they were German spies, and took them to a gulag labor camp for political prisoners in Siberia.

Jucker and her mom stayed there for three years in what she described as deplorable conditions.

"There was a lack of food and medicine. There was no electricity, so we used kerosene lamps. No running water or toilet. Only an outhouse outside in the yard serving the families in the barracks," she recalled. "Siberia was a wasteland with malaria and flies. In the summer, I was covered in mosquito bites. The winter was extremely harsh and about -94 degrees."

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They were finally freed after the Nazis invaded Russia and forced its soldiers to divert their attention to the battlefield. After living with Jucker's uncle for a short time in the Ural Mountains of Siberia, her mom and aunt-in-law joined the Polish Army. It allowed them to head home with a military transport in 1945 as the war ended. During the three-month journey, Jucker said she was the only child on the train.

"All the way from Russia, we were constantly attacked by Ukrainian resistance that collaborated with the Germans. We traveled at night, and during the day, we camouflaged," she remembered.

Once they finally arrived in Krakow, Jucker was shocked by what she saw.

"Krakow was a beautiful city with beautiful gothic buildings, churches, parks, and synagogues. But everything was abandoned. The sidewalks near the Jewish cemetery were made out of headstones taken from the graves. It was a heartbreaking experience because we couldn't even find a headstone from our family that died before the war," she said.

Jucker and her mother stayed at a temporary shelter until they could find an apartment. Each day, she said they would go to the Jewish community to look for any of their relatives or friends who survived. Nearly two years later, her father eventually tracked her down after both of her parents had remarried. She lost touch with him shortly after and never saw him again.

"War is a horrible thing. It tears families apart," she said.

READ MORE: Houstonian travels back to France to honor family who hid her during Holocaust

Even after returning home to Poland, Jucker didn't feel safe once the war was over. She said Jews were still being targeted in antisemitic attacks, prompting her family to move to Israel 13 years later. That's where she eventually met her future husband, who brought her to Houston, where she's rebuilt her life.

She currently lives in Meyerland and now has three children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

As she reflects during Jewish American Heritage Month, she said she's grateful to defy the odds and share her harrowing story of surviving the Holocaust at 87 years old.

"That's proof that Hitler cannot win and only love can survive the hate," Jucker said. "It's important to me that an event like the Holocaust should never happen again. Not just to Jewish people, but to any human beings in the world."

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