Markus Nowogrodzki is the son of Emanuel and Sonia Czemielinski Nowogrodzki. He was born in Warsaw on September 13, 1920. Emanuel, a journalist, served as Secretary General of the Bund Central Committee and was a member of the Warsaw city council, and Sonia taught elementary school. Prior to the outbreak of the war, Emanuel came to the United States on a World's Fair visa to raise money for the Bund. He was still in America when the war broke out. Markus was an engineering student in France, but was in Poland on a holiday when the war broke out. He did not return to France because that would have necessitated traveling through Germany. Instead, he heeded the call for young men of military age to flee to the east. Sonia stayed behind. He first went to Lvov where his grandmother lived. However, a friend active in the Communist Party warned him to flee from there before he was arrested for his father's anti-communist views. He and two friends decided to flee to independent Lithuania. Their first attempt to cross the border was unsuccessful. The second time Markus was stopped by Lithuanian guards, stripped of his valuables, but allowed into the country. Among those who crossed the border with him was Mery Szefner, the daughter of another prominent Bundist, whom he later married. After crossing, Markus went to a small village where he was given food and shelter as well as enough money to take a bus to Vilna. He arrived in Vilna on January 1, 1940 and lived with other Polish refugees. Emanuel, who was still in the United States, worked with the International Rescue Committee and the American Labor Committee to obtain American visas for prominent Bundists and religious Jews, as well as for Markus. During the summer of 1940 Markus received a visa to the United States. Since he could not travel on his prewar Polish passport, Markus was issued a stateless Lithuanian travel document called a Lejdimas. He left Lithuania in September 1940 for Japan, and on October 16, 1940 he sailed on the NYK ship Heian Maru for Seattle. Markus's mother Sonia became imprisoned in the Warsaw ghetto. There she served as a member of the Central Committee of the Bund underground and was active in organizing self-help and education in the ghetto. She was deported to Treblinka where she perished on September 10, 1942. Markus heard of her death while serving in the US Army in France.
Mery Szefner (later Nowogrodzki) was born in Lodz in 1920. Before the war she studied in the Warsaw Polytechnic Institute. Her father, Boruch Szefner, was president of the Yiddish Writers' Union in Warsaw and parliamentary correspondent for the Volkszeitung, the Bund daily and her stepmother, Helena Aszkenazy Szefner worked as a French teacher in Polish high schools. After the start of World War II, Boruch was evacuated to Vilna with the Polish parliamentary staff. He urged his family to escape as well. Mery agreed, but her sister, Esther, who was a medical student in Brussels decided to return to Belgium to continue her education. Helena remained behind to help Esther. In December 1939, Mery and her friend Iza Sznejerson left Warsaw with a group of about ten people. Their first attempt to cross the frozen Bug River into Soviet occupied Poland was unsuccessful. Though Mery's foot crashed through the ice and she lost her suitcase, they succeeded on the second attempt and proceeded on to Lida. Their remaining valuables were confiscated at the Lithuanian border, but they were allowed to enter the country. Mery and Iza found shelter and food at the home of a sympathetic peasant, and to their surprise, a taxi showed up the following morning, sent by Boruch, to take them to Vilna where they lived for the next six months. However, after the Soviet take-over of Lithuania in June 1940, Boruch, who had been an outspoken critic of Communism, had to hide under the assumed name of Izak Braude. The Jewish Labor Committee arranged for him to receive an American visa, and he sent Mery to Kaunas to pick it up. He also received two Sugihara visas (#1947 and #1814) under both his actual and assumed names. Mery also obtained a Sugihara visa (#1808). Boruch left Lithuania for Japan in February 1941 where he was again able to assume his real identity, and Mery joined him later. Their tickets and accommodations were paid for in the United Sates by American relief organizations. They sailed to the United States on the Kamakura Maru in late April 1941. After arriving in America, Boruch served as a staff writer for the Jewish Daily Forward. His wife, Dr. Helena Szefner, taught in the underground high school of the Warsaw ghetto and worked in the Szulc factory before escaping to the Aryan side with false papers. Boruch's sister Szyfra survived in a bunker under the Warsaw ghetto. Mery's sister successfully arrived in Belgium and after the German invasion fled to France and Portugal and sailed to the United Sates in December 1941. After the war, Helena rejoined Mery and Boruch in New York. Mery married Markus Nowogrodzki in 1942, before he was drafted into the U.S. Army.