Locked in the Darkness. A letter from Sabina Heller (Inka Kagan)
I was born Inka Kagan in 1941 in the small town Radziwillow, east Poland, district Ukraine. Nazi Germany just invaded the country and organized all over the ghettos for the Jewish people. My parents the Kagans were a young Jewish couple. They tried to survive by escaping the ghetto together with their baby/me. I am the only one from my family who survived the Holocaust, my parents were killed.
Since July 1943 I became officially Irena, the youngest child of the Roztropowicz family. They decided to rescue the baby/me, I spite of the great risk to their own family and their three children. They took me in as a member of their family and helped me regain my health by taking care of me day and night. They didn’t hide me. The Roztropowiczes told their neighbors that I was child of their deceased cousin who was murdered by Ukrainians. They gave me loving home for five years.
In 1945, we were repatriated from Wołyń to Poland, as Wołyń became part of Ukraine. In September 1948 I started first grade in a polish school.
The Jewish Coordination contacted the Roztropowiczes and on November 1948 took me to the Jewish orphanage in Lodz. The Jewish Coordination was an organization whose goal was top redeem Jewish saved by Christian families during the Holocaust. They decided that it was in my best interest to return to my Jewish Heritage. They told the Rostropowiczes to place me in a Jewish orphanage where I would be with my people. Tearfully, the family released me to the custody of the orphanage. There to my horror, as a seven year old child, I learned that I was Jewish.
Soon one of the doctor of staff, dr. Sophia Goszczewski and her husband Zygmunt approached me and had told me they were real parents and we were separated by the war. They took me home with them. I was naturally very confused and traumatized. They sent me to Hebrew school. A year after living with Goszczewskis, we moved to Israel.
Upon arrival in Israel we lived in a tent tenement for a week and moved in with Nehemiah Rabin. Nehemiah was the father of Yitzhak Rabin, the future Prime Minister of Israel.
The Goszczewskis raised me to maturity. They never spoke about my past. This helped me to establish a new identity. I was now Ina Goszczewski. I received my education in Israel; and served two mandatory years in the army.
In 1970 I met and married Alfred Heller. He was also a Holocaust survivor who lived in the US and was visiting Israel. I moved with my husband to the US and we settled in California. We had two children, Mark and Ron. I worked for ten years in a temple teaching Hebrew. Then I went back to school and got my California teaching credentials. Soon after that I got teaching position in Los Angeles Unified School District. In 1998 my husband passed away.
The truth of my story came to light in 1999 when my cousin Rachel Rabin Yaakov called me from Israel with the information she received from Emuna Gafini. Mrs. Gafini was doing research at the Historical Jewish Institute in Warsaw, Poland and by coincidence discovered my story. She found out that the Roztropowiczes had been looking for little Inka (the name they gave me when I lived with them).
I was really shocked to find out I was adopted. My parents went to their grave never revealing their secret. I summoned all my courage and phoned the children of Natalia and Jozef Roztropowicz in Poland it was, as you imagine, very emotional. We started to correspond and made an effort to get to know each other again.
In the year 2000 I met Stanka, Janka, Zosia and Jendryk Roztropowicz in Warsaw when I attended the ceremony where the deceased Jozef and Natalia were honored by Yad Vashem as Righetous among the Nations.
It is then that Roztropowicz children handed me a letter that their mother Natalia had addressed to me, the adult Inka. In the letter she explains the circumstances that influenced the family’s decision to turn me over to the Jewish Coordination Organization.
Through Natalia’s letter, Stanka’s Diary and the children’s stories I learned about my past. I still don’t know anything about my biological parents who by their incredibly brave decision to leave me with complete strangers, saved my life. Growing up in Israel as Ina Goszczewski I didn’t consider myself a Holocaust survivor. My parents were but I was not. I was an Israeli! It came as a great shock to me that I was too.
Since then I had struggled with many issues like my Holocaust past, my adoption etc. I had learned to accept my life and appreciate ho lucky I am to be alive when so many children during the Holocaust were not.
“Locked in the Darkness” is the name of my Memoir. It has my story, Natalia’s letter and Stanka’s Diary. It will be published in English by Yad Vashem.
Sabina Heller (Inka Kagan)