Ava Schonberg was born in Antwerp, Belgium, on January 18, 1937 to David and Roza Elowicz Schonberg, both of whom were originally from Poland. The family included three daughters: Celine (b. 1935), Ava, and Alice (b. 1941). David worked as a diamond cutter. In 1942, David was arrested and sent first to Malines, and then to Auschwitz on Convoy IX, where he was killed. After his arrest, Rosa and her daughters went into hiding. Ava at first stayed with a Jewish family then spent a year hiding in the attic of a seamstress, Madame Louise, in Brussels. Later, Madame Louise took both Celine and Ava to the convent Notre Dame de Sept Douleurs in Wezenbeek, posing as their mother. The sisters were among the 18 Jewish children hidden by the mother superior of the convent. Roza was able to visit them several times. The nuns of the convent were later recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. In 1944, Roza arranged for the Belgian underground to smuggle the family into Switzerland. En route, Celine contracted the measles and Roza needed to stay with her. Ava proceeded alone to Switzerland with Alice, where they were placed in the Girenbad refugee camp near Zurich. Two weeks later, Roza and Celine arrived. Roza and Alice were placed in the Morgins refugee camp while Celine and Ava were placed with foster families. After the war, Roza and her daughters returned to Belgium, where Ava and Celine stayed in the Tiefenbrunner children's home for three years. In 1948, they began to live with Roza again, attending the Orthodox Beit Yaakov school. In 1949, Roza married Rabbi Haskel Dovid Halberstam, who had lost his wife and children in the Holocaust. Halberstam adopted Roza’s daughters, and the family immigrated to the United States in 1953.