The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) is the world’s leading Jewish humanitarian assistance organization. The JDC was founded in 1914 to assist Jewish persons in Palestine during World War I. The Holocaust and World War II caused the JDC to ramp up its relief efforts. With the end of the war in 1945, Jewish survivors were placed into hastily created displaced persons camps throughout Europe. Along with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), the JDC helped administer these camps and provide supplies. The JDC has aided millions of Jews in more than 85 countries.
Anna Blatt was born on July 10, 1935 in Slomniki, a small community in Poland near Kraków. Her parents were Ester (nee Biatobrody, born March 15, 1901) and Jonah. She had three older siblings, Victor (born 1923), Bernard (born 1925), and Rachel (born 1926). Some uncles, aunts, and cousins had already emigrated to Palestine as pioneers.
In 1939, the Germans occupied the town and instituted anti-Jewish restrictions, such as excluding Jewish children from school. In the fall of 1942, the Germans deported the Jews of the town. Anna and her mother were sent to the Jewish ghetto in Kraków. Her brothers were sent to labor camps. Rachel and their father were sent to the Mirów ghetto and were killed when that ghetto was eliminated.
An arrangement was made with a former business associate of Anna’s father, a non-Jewish man named Perek. If Anna and her mother could escape the ghetto to his office, he would be able to help them. Anna had been told the address. She had the habit of standing by the ghetto entrance, watching the traffic pass in and out. One day in 1943, she happened to stand just outside the gate. A German guard yelled, “If you want to join the Jews and get killed, then get in.” She realized that he took her for a person from outside the ghetto. She walked away from the ghetto and went to Perek. He arranged for her to be taken to Warsaw. Her mother joined her there a few days later, having purchased false papers that identified her and Anna as Christians. Anna and Magdalena Zwolinska.
Mother and daughter spent the days sitting in parks and the nights in rented rooms. Anna’s mother had hidden some jewelry and sold it for food and lodging. When rooms were not available, they rode the overnight train to Krakow, then spent the day walking around that city. The next night they would spend on the train back to Warsaw. During this time, Anna’s mother took her to church frequently to help her become familiar with Christian customs as part of their effort not to give away their real identities.
In the fall of 1943, Anna’s mother got work as a servant in the house of Princess Woroniecki, outside Warsaw. Anna and her mother lived in the house through the liberation by Russian troops on January 15, 1945. In July, they attempted to return to their home in Slomniki, but were driven from the region when local Polish residents rioted against the returning Jews. They travelled to the Bindermichl displaced persons camp near Linz, Austria, where they were reunited with Bernard, an uncle, and some cousins, all of whom had been in the Mauthausen concentration camp.
At first, Anna continued to attend church and wear a cross, but in October 1945 she received a mezuzah pendant from the Joint Distribution Committee. As she related years later in a letter: “That little mezuzah restored my identity.” At the camp, her mother used ration cards to pay for teachers for Anna, giving her an intensive education to try to make up for her lost years. Anna participated in some activities in the Bnei Akiva youth group, and attended a summer camp in Bad Gastein in 1948. In 1951, the family emigrated to Israel and joined their relatives already living there. As a young adult, Anna worked as a stewardess on El Al, the Israeli national airline. She married Philip Balaban in 1962. They settled in the United States and had two children. They were married forty-nine years, until Philip passed away on November 28, 2011.
In an interview in 1997, Anna said, “I feel very victorious that I survived intact. I cherish life. Never take for granted a day.” The Holocaust is not just a historical event, she said. “Make it a living lesson.”