March 21, 2023

Preserving the Stories of the Shoah

The Holocaust Council at Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest is committed to telling the stories of the Shoah so that we “Never Forget,” the lives of the 6 million murdered, and continue to learn from the most horrific period in human history. Through the “Keeping the Stories Alive” program, thousands and thousands of students, teachers, and adults have been fortunate enough to hear from brave survivors who, despite the difficulty, share their stories over and over again. One remarkable survivor is Fran Malkin from West Orange.

Fran was born in the small town of Sokal, Poland (now Ukraine), which had a population of 5,200 Jews at the start of World War II and the Holocaust. Only 30 survived the war, 16 of whom were saved by a Polish Catholic woman, named Franciszka Halamajowa, and her daughter Helena. For almost two years, Franciszka and Helena hid two Jewish families on top of her hayloft and another in the basement of her home. They cooked for them and fed them, cared for them, at great risk to their lives, as there were always German patrols and troops pillaging the town and hostile Ukrainian neighbors ready to hand over anyone in exchange for preferential treatment. But Franciszka and her family did what they knew was right and decent.

Fran Malkin was a small child (between 4 and 6) when she was hidden with her mother and other family members in the Halmajowa’s pigsty after they escaped from the Sokal Ghetto. Now, almost 80 years after Franciska’s family’s bravery, courage and kindness, Fran tirelessly tells the story of the woman that saved her life. Utilizing her own memories, as well as a diary kept by her uncle in hiding, she has spoken to countless schools and organizations to ensure that this story is never forgotten.

Recently, on a visit to a school in Newark, Fran was asked, what makes her want to continuously speak about the horrible atrocities that she and her family had suffered during the Holocaust. Fran answered that she hopes this specific lesson of what a strong woman can do has had an impact on the young people in the audiences she speaks to. It is clear that Franciszka Halamajowa’s incredible kindness and bravery, along with Fran Malkin’s drive to share her experience will continue to enhance Holocaust Education for future generations.