Jane Lipski (born 1924) is a Jewish survivor of the Będzin ghetto. Fourteen years old when the Nazis invaded Poland, she and her family were forced into the ghetto and lived there for several years. In 1943, her parents and siblings were deported to concentration camps and Jane fled to Slovakia looking for refuge. She married an older man working for the resistance movement, but Soviet soldiers captured the fleeing couple and imprisoned them in Moscow. Jane’s husband was later killed in custody. Jane gave birth to her son in a Soviet prison and spent three more years working in labor camps as a Soviet political prisoner. After living under the oppressive policies of postwar Soviet antisemitism for years, Jane was eventually released from captivity in 1947 and reunited with her three surviving siblings.
Jane was born into the Szpiegelman family on the Jewish holy day of Yom Kippur, marking her as blessed in the eyes of her parents. Jane had a large family living in Będzin—over forty people—and the Jewish faith was a central part of family and social life in Jane’s early years. She attended a private Jewish school but did not speak Yiddish, the language spoken among most Polish Jews. Her older brother Poldek, a medical student and future surgeon, drilled her endlessly in her studies and ruled the house even above his parents. Jane, her brother, and two older sisters were involved in the Zionist movement and other youth Jewish youth groups.
When Nazis invaded Poland and occupied the town of Będzin in September of 1939, Jane and her family attempted to flee but were soon forced to return home. Nazis quickly established a Judenrat (Jewish Council), and began closing Jewish clubs, cinemas, libraries, and other social, academic, and religious institutions. Like most Jews in their community, Jane and her family were relocated to a small, shabby apartment near the ghetto. Local Nazi authorities implemented food rations and curfews, and resources became increasingly scarce. When her father was laid off from his job, Jane helped him smuggle food in and out of town while also knitting hats and socks with her mother to sell for additional income. Her brother fled east while her sisters and their husbands remained in Będzin with the family.
When Jane and her family were forced into the ghetto of Kamionka, they shared a one-room house with another couple. Soon after, Jane’s aunt and her five children moved in to the already crowded home. Jane and her parents made the most of their lives in the ghetto, maintaining engagement in Jewish culture and participating in prohibited social activities. Mass deportations began in 1942. Jane’s parents were initially selected for deportation at the Będzin stadium roundup but were later released. Jane and her family lived in constant fear as the Nazis detained and deported more Jews every day.
Jane began working with a Jewish resistance movement that was trying to smuggle weapons into the ghetto. Some of the young men in resistance were able to falsify Jane’s identification card so that she could travel between towns, making contacts and delivering guns. On August 3, 1943, Jane arrived back in Będzin to learn that most of the ghetto had been liquidated. Almost everyone, including her parents and sisters, were sent to Auschwitz. Grieving and alone, Jane hid out with one of her smuggling contacts for several days before traveling to Slovakia to continue working with the resistance. She married Izi, a Slovakian man, who also worked in the resistance. In 1944, she and Izi attempted to escape Slovakia but were captured by Soviet soldiers. Though initially promised asylum in Moscow, Jane and Izi were quickly separated and imprisoned.
Jane spent three months in solitary confinement with poor food and no news of her husband. During this time she learned that she was pregnant. She was put into a cell with other female prisoners and their children. Soviet officials initially accused her of espionage and informed her that she would remain in prison indefinitely. Months later, her charges were reduced due to lack of evidence. Jane and her son infant Edward, now Soviet political prisoners, were relocated to a labor camp for a five-year sentence.
Jane lived in the Soviet camp for about two years. She initially worked as a seamstress, then in hard labor, and finally as a certified nurse—though she had received little education in nursing. Her son Eddie lived in a childcare facility forty-five minutes away from the camp. Jane was forced to walk long hours after work to visit him. Living conditions were miserable: the weather was freezing cold, the food was meager, and Jane’s captors frequently harassed her sexually. Jane survived the hardships of camp life by making friends and relying on the kindness of other women. In late 1947, the USSR granted amnesty to female prisoners with children, and Jane was finally able to secure freedom for herself and her son.
Jane and Eddie had no home, no family, and nowhere to go after their release. The Polish embassy in the USSR offered a small amount of money and a temporary housing assignment, but soon they were living on the streets. The embassy also informed Jane that her husband Izi was killed in prison. She and Eddie traveled back and forth for months between the labor camp and Moscow, searching for assistance in repatriation to Poland. Finally, in early 1948, they arrived at the Polish border. Jane lived for three years in Lodz and reunited with her brother and sisters. She emigrated to Israel and eventually to the United States. In 1951, she married Richard Lipski. They had a daughter named Miriam. Jane currently lives in Tucson, Arizona. Follow her path across Europe after 1944.
Jane’s story can be read in:
Stolen Youth: Five Women’s Survival in the Holocaust (Yad Vashem, 2005)
The USC Shoah Foundation (popularly known as Spielberg foundation) interviewed Jane, under the Int. code # # 8508: