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Name: Sylvia Schwerd Blasberg (1925 – )

Birth Place: Lwow, Poland

Arrived in Wisconsin: 1949, Milwaukee

They say that time heals. Maybe it doesn't heal so much.

Sylvia Blasberg

Map of survivor's journey in Europe.

Biography

Sylvia Schwerd Blasberg was born in Lwow (Sylvia calls it by its former name, Lemberg), Poland on December 5, 1925. She was the oldest of four siblings. The Russian army occupied her hometown in 1939. When the German army invaded the Soviet territory on June 22, 1941, 15-year-old Sylvia was placed on a truck heading east into the depths of Russia. For nearly three years she worked at a number of collective settlements, which were continually evacuated as the Germans advanced. In early 1943, after the Germans suffered crucial defeats, she and two friends began to wend their way homeward.

In the spring of 1944, the girls reached their hometowns in the now Russian-occupied Poland. They had heard of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis, but were unprepared for the devastation that greeted them. Sylvia discovered that there were no survivors from her family and seriously contemplated suicide.

While searching for relatives, Sylvia met Harry Blasberg, another survivor. After three weeks the two were married. Throughout 1945, they lived in a variety of Polish cities, including Warsaw, until they were able to reach Berlin and several displaced persons camps. Contact with relatives in the United States prompted the Blasbergs' immigration to Milwaukee in September 1949.

In Wisconsin, the Blasbergs struggled to establish themselves. They moved often and each held a variety of jobs. At the time of this interview, Sylvia was employed by the Jewish Family and Children's Service as an interpreter for new Russian immigrants.

Audio and Transcript Information

Below are the highlights of each tape. They do not list all topics discussed. Recordings of only one tape side are marked: (no Side 2). Documents may be printed or downloaded at no cost. See Rights and Permissions


Listen to Sylvia's testimony and view transcript

Tape 1, Side 1
  • Sylvia's family background in Lwow, Poland
  • Recollections of her grandparents
  • Traditional Jewish life in Poland
  • Reaction to loss of family members
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 12.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 1, Side 2
  • Childhood in Lemburg, Poland, until Russian occupation
  • Family moves to Magierow, Poland
  • Harassment of Jews and anti-Semitism
  • German invasion and forced labor
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 12.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 2, Side 1
  • Relations with German soldiers
  • Religious education and practices, Zionist Youth group and Jewish National Fund
  • Anti-Semitism in Poland
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 2, Side 2
  • Approach of war in the late 1930s
  • Increasing anti-Semitic propaganda
  • War reaches Lemberg and Mageriow
  • Ghettos and forced labor camps are created
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 13.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 3, Side 1
  • German soldiers arrive in Magierow, 1941
  • Sylvia flees to the Soviet Union
  • Refugee life on Russian collective farms
  • Attack by German aircraft machine guns
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.4 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 3, Side 2
  • Sylvia and two friends survive three years in Russia
  • Disease and starvation among refugees
  • Russians recapture Stalingrad
  • Sylvia and friends meet Russian Jews
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 4, Side 1
  • Sylvia sees Babi Yar extermination camp
  • Learning of mass graves in Rowne and Magierow
  • Finding liberated Lemberg in ruins
  • Fate of family members
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 12.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 4, Side 2
  • Sylvia and friends contemplate suicide
  • Meeting and marrying Harry Blasberg
  • Working as a bookkeeper in Lubaczow
  • Separated from husband and arrested
Download Audio (MP3, 25 minutes, 12.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 5, Side 1
  • Son born in Wlochy, Poland, 1945
  • Blasbergs move to Warsaw in summer 1945, reach Stettin, December 1945
  • Living in Schlachtensee displaced persons camp until March 1946
  • Moving to Eschwege Bei Kassel displaced persons camp
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 11.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 5, Side 2
  • Life at Eschwege Bei Kassel until 1949
  • Registering to go to Israel, relatives advise family to come to U.S.
  • Help from UNRRA and JDC
  • Greeted at Boston harbor by workers from Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS)
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.6 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 6, Side 1 (no Side 2)
  • Zionist activities, living conditions at Eschwege displaced persons camp
  • Preparing for immigration, CIA interview, physical exams
  • Blasbergs arrive in Milwaukee, September 21, 1949
  • Help from Jewish Family and Children's Service, new friends
Download Audio (MP3, 24 minutes, 12.7 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 7, Side 1
  • Apartments and home in Milwaukee during 1950s
  • Her husband starts his own business, Sylvia's work in baking and manufacturing
  • Challenges of life as new immigrant
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 11.3 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 7, Side 2
  • Aid from Jewish Family and Children's Service
  • Sylvia works as translator for JFCS with Russian immigrants
  • She speaks for New American Club
  • Attitudes of American-born Jews and non-Jews toward Holocaust
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.8 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 8, Side 1
  • Sylvia's and her husband's jobs in Milwaukee
  • Data on husband Harry Blasberg and their 1978 divorce
  • Attitudes toward child rearing
  • Children's knowledge of parents' Holocaust experiences
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 12.3 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 8, Side 2
  • Parenting and family life in Milwaukee
  • Differences between German and Polish Jews
  • Her support for survivors' organizations
  • Americans knowledge of and attitudes toward the Holocaust
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 12.9 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 9, Side 1
  • Sylvia's feelings on intermarriage
  • Her religious beliefs and practices
  • Feelings about religion in relation to the Holocaust and Israel
  • Thoughts on her hectic life and busy job
Download Audio (MP3, 26 minutes, 12.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 9, Side 2
  • Sylvia's speculations on her survival, guilt feelings, pain of loss
  • Reactions to media dramatizations and books about the Holocaust
  • Feelings about Milwaukee and its cultural opportunities
  • Parks and lakes she loves to visit
Download Audio (MP3, 27 minutes, 3.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 10, Side 1
  • Sylvia's feelings about Israel and Wisconsin
  • Opinions about American politics and culture
  • Thoughts on American Nazi party demonstrations, U.S. democracy
  • Comparing post-World War II refugees to Arab refugees forced from Israel
Download Audio (MP3, 28 minutes, 13.5 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)
Tape 10, Side 2
  • Anti-Semitism in U.S. today
  • Attitudes toward Germany
  • Continuing painful memories of Holocaust
  • Importance of the Holocaust in U.S. education
Download Audio (MP3, 19 minutes, 9.0 MB) View Transcript Page (PDF, 717 KB)

About the Interview Process

  • The interview was conducted by Jean Loeb Lettofsky during three sessions on November 3, 1980, and January 22 and February 2, 1981. They lasted three, two and one-half, and nearly four hours respectively.

    Each session was conducted after working hours in the immigrant resettlement offices of the Milwaukee Jewish Family and Children's Service. The interview includes many foreign words and phrases, which could not always be translated in the transcript. The audio quality is often poor, and many words are inaudible. A recurring theme in this interview is the hope and optimism that sustained Sylvia throughout her Russian odyssey. Her hope and optimism continued throughout her problematic marriage and difficult years as a new immigrant.


Audio and Transcript Details

  • Interview Dates: Nov 3, 1980; Jan 22, 1981; Feb 2, 1981
  • Interview Location: Jewish Family and Children's Service, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Interviewer: Archivist Jean Loeb Lettofsky
  • Original Sound Recording Format: 10 qty. 60-minute audio cassette tapes
  • Length of Interviews: 3 interviews, total approximately 10 hours
  • Transcript Length: 174 pages
  • Rights and Permissions: Any document may be printed or downloaded to a computer or portable device at no cost for nonprofit educational use by teachers, students and researchers. Nothing may be reproduced in any format for commercial purposes without prior permission.
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