For Kristine Chiger (later Kristine Keren post-war), then a 7-year old Jewish girl whose family was relocated to the Lvov ghetto, one piece of material comfort she clung to over the years was a minty green sweater gifted to her by her paternal grandmother just prior to the Nazi invasion of Poland.
Despite literally watching her grandmother who gave her the cherished sweater be led to a cattle car destined for the death camps, Kristine managed to evade the Nazis, hiding in a small run-down apartment with her brother. When the Nazis stormed the local buildings looking for Jewish people, Kristine hid her brother in a suitcase while she herself hid in a corner beneath her mother’s bathrobe. Later in 1943, Kristine and her family members literally domiciled alongside the lice-infested rats in the sewers beneath the Lvov ghetto hoping to avoid deportation.
“It was terrible,” she recalled. “It was like going to hell.”
Dystentery, measles, and depression plagued the sewer residents, and those who abandoned the sewer for daylight, sanity, and the aboveground world were quickly shot by the Nazis. Those family members who survived the war lived in the sewer for upwards of 14 months before Russian forces liberated the Lvov ghetto in 1944.
Not only did Kristine survive the time in the sewer, albeit malnourished and sickly, but alive, the sweater survived the ordeal as well.
“The sweater was saved, together with me,” she further recalled. “I cherish this sweater.”
After the ghetto was liquidated, Kristine moved to Israel where she met the love of her life and pursued a career as a dentist, then immigrated to the United States. Yet Kristine clung to the faded green sweater decades and thousands of miles later not only as a memory of her grandmother, but of overcoming the horrors of the Holocaust.
Today, the faded green sweater is on permanent display in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Written by Erin Parfet