Surviving the Holocaust through a child’s eyes

Sabina Katz in 1945
Sabina Katz in 1945 (Courtesy of Sabina Katz’s family)

When she was a child, Sabina Katz was in one of the last groups of children to safely leave Danzig, Germany, on a Kindertransport in 1939.

Katz was born in Warsaw, Poland, but fled with her mother to the free city of Danzig, where she left on the train in secret with her Yiddish Folk Schula that April. These children were the last people to get out of Danzig safely. It was meant to be a temporary separation from her family; however, her father died of illness a few years later and her mother later died in a concentration camp.

Now living independently near her family in the Atrium Village Senior Living Community in Owings Mills, Katz will be turning 96 on March 3. On Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, she shared her story with the JT. She spoke humbly about her experiences, painting a realistic picture of what it was like to view the Holocaust through a child’s eyes.

At the time, she was not scared. Katz said her perspective was so much different because of her age.

“At that age, you’re not that interested in hoping things will change … As a child, even at 13, you’re not that serious about it,” she said.

“You’re a kid. You’re going somewhere but it’s not going to be forever,” she said of the transport.

She remembers two things from the ride very clearly: two boys breaking a window that caused the train to stop — a dangerous game when hiding 75 children — and how beautiful the tulips were the morning after they arrived in Holland.

“I remember that so distinctly — these two boys. [My headmaster] was wonderful. I don’t know what he did with them,” she said.

Katz and the other children then took a boat to England, where they were placed in different family homes. Though she found a loving family in the Fullers and their two sons in Birmingham, it was a culture shock for Katz to live a life so different from her upbringing.

Most importantly, she was also separated from her Jewish traditions.

“My luck — Mrs. Fuller complained about me. I must have done something,” Katz said. That prompted a woman from the refugee movement to come and see her.

She hadn’t even known where the movement was because “they kept everything such a secret,” Katz said. But her disciplinary meeting turned out to be her greatest blessing because it allowed her to reconnect with the children she left home with once again. She was able to stay with them at the refugee hostel for about two years.

Despite many hardships in life, in her retelling, Katz mostly focuses on the light within the darkness.

One of those bright points was her early life in Poland, having her grandmother’s patzka and her mother’s cookies with tea on Shabbat morning.

“That was a big deal,” she said of the latter. Her mother would always host her aunts, uncles and grandma (and her five cousins) for Jewish holidays.

Another special moment was the first time she met her husband-to-be at a bus stop. She recalled their meeting with a dose of humor. His name was Martin Katz, and he was from the United States.

“I looked at him and I said to myself, ‘This is the first Jewish person I ever met,’” she said. How did she know he was Jewish? “Well, I looked at his nose.”

Later on, she saved up enough money to visit him where he lived in Philadelphia. The two soon after got married and started a family.

Sabina Katz with her daughter, Paula Diamond
Sabina Katz, right, with her daughter, Paula Diamond, at Atrium Village Senior Living Community (Atrium Village)

As she has grown older, her daughter, Paula Diamond, says she has been able to overwrite the tough times with many happy memories.

Katz moved from Pennsylvania to Atrium Village eight years ago to be closer to Diamond and her children. In a school essay written when she was in ninth grade, her granddaughter Rachael describes Katz as caring and generous.

“Never once in all of the years I have known her has she put herself before others,” she writes.

Living at the Atrium Village, Katz has found connections in family and community again. Her family has taken on all her Jewish traditions, Diamond said.

“We celebrate together as a family for every holiday. There isn’t a dinner that goes by,” she said. “I have followed in my mom’s footsteps.”

In 2009, Katz also got to share her experiences from the Holocaust with her family in Poland when the country’s government recognized the Kindertransport survivors.

In reflecting on her story, Diamond said her mother is a survivor — very strong-willed and strong-minded.

“I think that speaks to why she’s so adored and respected,” she said.

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