Sally Chase (1928-2017) was born Sala Silberstein to Daniel (1885/87-1942) and Estera (nee Hochberg, 1890-1942) Silberstein in Radom, Poland. She had seven siblings: Abraham (?-1942), Jakob (known as Jack, 1909-1989), Moses (1912-1943), Joshua (1915-1943), Pinchas (?-1944), Hadassa (later Helen Kaluski, 1922-1981), and Rosa (later Eisenberg, b. 1924). The family lived in a nice, three-room apartment, and had extended family nearby. Three of her brothers worked as accountants; the two oldest brothers were both married with children and had their own households.
Sala enjoyed a very happy childhood, and the entire family was musically inclined. The city of Radom had a large Jewish population, and religion played an important part of their family’s life. Sala’s father, Daniel, was a professor in a Russian gymnasium, but lost his credentials after World War I. He became a well-respected private tutor and Talmudic scholar. Sala was one of three Jewish girls in her public elementary school, but she did not personally experience much antisemitism.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland. Sala and her family began hearing the bombs in Radom that day, so they remained in their home until it stopped eight days later. Immediately upon occupation, the Germans instituted anti-Jewish regulations that restricted every aspect of Jewish life. Jewish children were barred from public school, however, Sala’s father continued to tutor her. Two of her brothers, Pinchas and Joshua, decided to walk to eastern Poland and almost made it to the Soviet border. However, they were separated, and Joshua made the return trek home. Pinchas ended up in Tarnapol, near the Soviet border, which came under German occupation in July 1941. He remained there until he was killed in 1944.
On April 3, 1941, the Radom city administration ordered the establishment of Jewish ghettos in two separate areas of the city. Sala’s family of nine was forced out of their home into a one-room shack, in one of the ghettos. Her brothers continued to work, but they were unpaid as the Germans took over the industries. Sala’s sister, Hadassa, also got a job in a harness and belt factory. For a time, they were able to sneak out and obtain additional food. Periodically, the German authorities would conduct Aktions, leading to the arrest and deportation of 700 Jews to concentration camps by the end of August 1942.
In June 1942, Sala’s mother pushed her to volunteer for a work detail at a labor camp, three miles outside of Radom, hoping it would keep her safe. Sala and the other girls worked 12-hour shifts loading supplies for the army trains. Conditions in this camp were marginally better than in the ghetto, and Sala eventually befriended one of the German officers who occasionally got her extra food. Sala was able to get her sister, Rosa, a job in the food department of the same warehouse. The following month, authorities began liquidating the two ghettos in a series of large Aktions. Wanting to stay with her parents, Sala departed for home, only to return to the camp on her mother’s orders. That summer, her parents, Daniel and Estera, were forcibly transported to Treblinka killing center, where they were likely killed in the gas chambers. In August, Sala’s brother, Abraham, his wife, and four children were also forcibly transported to Treblinka. After the August Aktion, only 3,000 workers were kept in Radom.
In January 1943, two of Sala’s brothers, Moses and Joshua, were among the 1,500 Jews forcibly transported to Treblinka, where they were killed. Hadassa was also supposed to be on that transport, but managed to escape. At the end of January, Sala was sent to a forced labor camp in the city. They were assigned to a work detail digging peat for fuel. In August, Jakob’s wife was separated from her daughter, deported, and killed. When the camp was liquidated in November, Sala and her sisters, Hadassa and Rosa, were transferred to a forced labor camp in Ostrowiec.
In June 1944, the three sisters were transferred to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Upon arrival, they survived the selection process. The guards only allowed them to keep their shoes, cut their hair short, and gave them dresses without underwear or stockings. They were also forcibly tattooed with prisoner numbers; Sala was 17134. Their barrack of 1,500 girls lived in horrible sanitary conditions, and they had to sneak out in the night to use the bathroom. They did not work while in Birkenau, but were counted twice a day and put through periodic selections for gassing.
In November, all three sisters were deported to a Gross-Rosen forced labor subcamp at Gebhardsdorf, Germany (now, Giebułtów, Poland), where Sala worked 12-hour shifts as a welder in the Aerobau aircraft factory. On January 18, 1945, the camp was evacuated ahead of approaching Soviet forces, and the women were force-marched 19 miles to St. Georgenthal, another Gross-Rosen subcamp. There the women worked in a factory, dismantling damaged aircrafts. Soviet forces liberated St. Georgenthal on May 8, 1945.
Following the end of the war, Sala, Hadassa, and Rosa went back to Radom hoping to find family but none were left. As a result, they went to Czechoslovakia, where they knew a non-Jewish engineer they had met at Ostrowiec. For three months, they worked as nurse’s aides for a Red Cross hospital. During a weekend visit to Prague in 1946, they got word that their brother, Jakob, was in Dachau. He had survived imprisonment in Lublin, Natzweiler, and Dachau, and worked for the U.S. Army after the war. The sisters left Prague to join him. Soon after, Jakob found the sister of his late wife, married her, and they had a son.
In June 1946, Hadassa immigrated to the United States with her new husband. Since she was under 18, Sala was able to move that September to the International Children’s Center in Prien am Chiemsee, where she registered for a quota number to the United States. She sailed for New York on January 1, 1947, settled with her sister and brother-in-law in Brooklyn, and changed her name to Sally. Almost immediately, she got a factory job as a floor girl, registered for night school, and began teaching herself English. After finishing high school, she got a job at an insurance company, and began taking accounting courses at Brooklyn College.
In 1949, Jakob and his family immigrated to the United States. That same year, Rosa married a survivor of Dachau and immigrated to Israel. Sally visited her in 1953; while there, she had her tattoo from Auschwitz removed. A few years later, Rosa and her family immigrated to the United States in 1957.
In 1957, Sally earned a Bachelor’s degree in accounting and a minor in education. Through a classmate, Sally met Ira Chase, a practicing lawyer, and the couple married later that year. They had two children, and Sally spoke regularly about her experiences during the Holocaust.