Lea Gleitman* was born in 1924 in the town of Oswiecim in southern Poland. Her brother Jehuda och sister Miriam were a couple of years older, and her younger sister Balcia three years younger. Her father Jonah ran a fabric store and her mother Szprinca was a housewife. Lea and her family used to celebrate the Jewish holidays with her father Jonah's siblings and other families that lived in the town.
In 1932, when Lea was eight years old, her family moved to Sosnowiec. It was a modern town and Lea used to go to the cinema and theatre. At Lea's school, all the children were Jewish. In Sosnowiec it was unusual for Jewish and Christian children to play together, and a number of the inhabitants were openly hostile towards Jews. Every so often, Jews were attacked. Many younger Jews planned on leaving Poland because of this.
* Lea's maiden name was Posner.
The year before the outbreak of war saw a rising threat from Nazi Germany and many Jewish youths made plans to emigrate.
On 1 September 1939, a few months before Lea turned 15, Germany invaded Poland. Sosnowiec, where Lea lived, and Oswiecim – which the Germans called Auschwitz – were occupied and became part of the Third Reich.
At the outbreak of war, Lea's father Jonah was on a business trip and ended up in the city of Lviv (Lvov) which was under the control of the Soviet Union.
By order of the Germans, Lea and all the Jews were forced to move to a special part of town. If anyone tried to leave they were shot by guards.
On 12 August, the Jews were given the order to assemble at a large sports field. There they were split up into various groups and the Germans selected those who would be deported to Auschwitz.
Lea and two siblings ended up in a new ghetto in town where they were put into forced labour in various workshops and factories.
In January 1944, the last of the Jewish forced labourers were deported from Sosnowiec and the ghetto was liquidated.
After a while in the ghetto, Lea and her siblings were sent to different forced labour camps. In Lea's camp, there were female SS guards who mocked and beat the prisoners.
In December 1944, when Soviet troops were advancing, the forced labour camp was shut down. Lea and the other prisoners were forced to march for two weeks to Bergen-Belsen in freezing January conditions.
1945 and Postwar Experiences
At the end of January 1945, Lea arrived at Bergen-Belsen. There she was placed with many others in the death barracks.
In April 1945, when British troops were close to Bergen-Belsen, the German guards fled, leaving the prisoners to their own fate without food or water.
After the liberation, Lea and other prisoners were placed by the British into a displaced persons camp. When Lea found out that her sister Miriam was still alive, she travelled to Poland to get her sister. They then travelled together to Sweden which was where Lea met Josef Gleitman, the man who would become her husband.