It was 52 years ago, in December 1963, when Felicia Graber arrived in the United States. Graber remembers it as a moment — of feeling safe, of arriving home.
Her poem begins in February 1945, more than 70 years ago. Her words bring us into another moment — that of shouts, singing and celebration.
Born in Tarnow, Poland in 1940, Graber spent her early years hiding her identity. Early during World War II, she and her mother fled from one Polish town to another. Later, they reunited with her father, who she thought was her uncle.
Until the age of 7, Graber was told that she and her family were Catholic and that her real father, a Polish soldier, was missing in action. Her parents hid their Judaism from her to ensure that Graber would not tell people that they were Jewish.
Because she had few of her own memories of the war, most people did not consider her a Holocaust survivor.
After Graber’s father died in 1991 and her mother in 1993, she spent two weeks in Poland, where, in 1994, she visited her hometown of Tarnow.
When she returned, she began to tell her friends about her journey and her childhood in Poland. She started to write about her experiences during the war, but she did not share her writing with anyone — yet.
It took years for Graber to realize that she wanted to tell her parents’ story. It took even longer for her to recognize herself as a survivor.
In 1996, she began transcribing her father’s 12-hour oral testimony about his experiences during the Holocaust. In 2013, the testimony was published as a book, “Our Father’s Voice: A Holocaust Memoir,” co-edited by Graber and her brother, Leon Bialecki.
The Hidden Child Newsletter, published by the Anti-Defamation League, printed several of her essays in the mid and late 1990s.
After she retired from teaching in 1996, Graber served as a docent at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center in St. Louis. Then, she began to tell her own experiences to museum visitors and community organizations.
In 2005, Smithsonian magazine included Graber’s poem “Liberation” — which follows — in the online version of its 60th anniversary edition celebrating the end of WWII.
Beginning in 2008, Graber participated in a writing class. The teacher encouraged her to write about her own memories of the war. Several of her essays are available on hmlc.org/category/memoryproject/feliciagraber/. Several of those essays became a part of her book, “Amazing Journey, Metamorphosis of a Hidden Child,” published in 2012.
Graber and her husband of 56 years, Rabbi Howard M. Graber, moved from St. Louis to Baltimore in 2012. Three Goucher College students interviewed her in 2013, learning and performing parts of her story as part of the college’s Oral Histories of Holocaust Survivors course.
Pieces of Graber’s stories are available to be viewed as part of Goucher’s digital archives, ibraryguides.goucher.edu/holocaustsurvivors.