When she was not even 10 years old, Paula Burger was dodging Nazi bullets in the forests of Poland.
A Polish Jew, Burger was relocated, along with family, to a Jewish ghetto after the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1941.
Her father, Zeb Wolfe, joined the Bielski partisan movement: the Polish resistance group featured in the 2008 movie â€œDefiance.â€
After her fatherâ€™s involvement in the group was discovered, Burgerâ€™s mother was arrested and executed by Nazi police. Shortly after, Burgerâ€™s father arranged to have her and her brother smuggled out of the ghetto in a water barrel. She was only 7 years old.
Burger told her story to an audience of about 40 people in the Lory Student Theater Wednesday evening. She was invited to speak as a part of CSUâ€™s Holocaust and Genocide Awareness week.
Burger painted a portrait of a world where humanityâ€™s virtues shined through even the darkest conditions. Her experiences with heroism began with her escape from the camp, for which she thanked a non-Jewish friend of her fatherâ€™s.
â€œIf they would have stopped him, he would have been killed, probably along with his family,â€ Burger said. â€œSo it was really a great kindness that he demonstrated. People sometimes do wonderful things even in the face of danger.â€
When she escaped to the wilderness, Burger left behind a world of constant paranoia.
â€œLife was really scary â€¦ Pretty soon people started to disappear, especially children,â€ she said.
â€œThey said that they would take these kids to relocate them where there was a better school.â€ she said. â€œThese old peopleÂ where there was better living, but eventually everybody knew they were being killed because nobody ever came back.”
While living with the Bielskis, Burger experienced an entirely new sort of danger.
The resistance group, started by three Polish brothers in 1941, operated within the Novogrudek forest, pillaging food from Nazi-occupied towns and destroying train tracks used to transport Nazi supplies.
Children were typically not allowed in the Bielski group, which saved an estimated 1,200 Jews, according to the United States Holocaust Manorial Museum Web site. Burger and her 3-year-old brother were allowed to remain only because of their fatherâ€™s close ties to the three Bielski brothers.
Burger gave her audience a glimpse of a cold world, where refugee Jews survived in crudely-built structures and children helped construct explosives for sabotage.
â€œThe only thing that was friendly was the stars at night in a very cool, cool sky,â€ she said.
Staff writer K.C. Fleming can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.