The students pictured from left to right: Berkley Hoge, Matthew Tran, Micah Fyrar, Ashtyn Andrews, Quinn Smeeton, Mr. Wood, Jason Renfro, Cody Leath, Carlos Calderon-Santamaria, Deseree Turner, and Erika Arellano.

Article by Ashtyn Andrews

Thanks to Mr. Wood, our new county representative for the North Carolina Council of the Holocaust, a group of Davie High students were able to take a trip to Mt. Tabor Highschool to listen to Shelly Weiner, a Ukrainian Holocaust Survivor. Shelly gave a speech about what it was like being so young living in German-occupied Poland, now Ukraine.

Shelly grew up in a small town called Rovno Poland, now Rivne Ukraine. She was four when the Germans invaded Soviet occupied Poland. Around 18,000 Jewish residents were massacred, and the rest were forced into ghettos. That July the Nazis gathered the remaining survivors to the center of town, and from there they were walked to ditches where they would be shot and left in the trenches. Shelly and her mother escaped to her cousin Rachel’s house. Shelly, Rachel and their mothers were lucky enough to find a family that hid them in the top of a barn for 18 months. Shelly mentioned how she was shocked at how their mothers kept a four and five-year-old so quiet for so long. In the barn they couldn’t stand, there was no bathroom, and winters were incredibly cold, making for conditions many of us couldn’t even imagine having to endure for 18 months. After a long time in the barn the farmer who hid them for so long was tipped off that police were on their way and he told them they needed to come down and say their goodbyes. The young girls convinced their mothers to run for three days with no food, no water, and no shelter. Shelly, Rachel, and their mothers hid in the woods and corn fields near the barn. Eventually, they were able to make their way back to the barn where they were hidden with the farmer’s daughter in a storage place for wheat underground. During this time many young women were being taken back to Germany, so the farmer decided to hide his daughter as well. Shelly described how she felt, knowing that she just didn’t want to die. Being so young, she didn’t know much about the war beyond that.

In 1944, the Russian army came and liberated the area. Rachel and Shelly were taken into town in a wagon with their mothers. Around this time Shelly and Rachel were split up; Shelly and her mother went back to Poland and eventually to the American-occupied part of Germany. Rachel and her mother stayed in Ukraine. Shelly and her mother were reunited with her father who had miraculously spent all of this time in the Soviet army. They spent three years in a displaced persons camp in Germany before they were able to come to North Carolina. Years later after Stalin’s death, Shelly was able to not only find Rachel but help her come to the US as well. In 2013 Rachel and Shelly were able to go back to the farm where they hid for so long. The name of the video documentary of the experience is called Return to Rivne. Shelly said that she agrees to tell her story and give speeches like the one at Tabor because she believes she can speak out about the horrible things that happened and cause someone to stand up for others, then the world would be a better place. Having the opportunity to listen to her was an eye-opening and heart-warming experience that the Davie students who attended owe to Mr. Wood.