Meet Ursula Israelski
Born February 7, 1936
An only child
Ursula remembers in 1939, at the age of 4 years old being with her mom and fleeing Berlin Germany. They went to Brussels Belgium. Her mother and she were in a home and lived in the attic. Her father never lived with her; he was in a different town. To this day she wonders how she survived. They were allowed to go out but they never left without wearing the STAR OF DAVID on their clothing. Her mother didn’t like the idea of wearing the star so she always kept her purse in front of the star. As for Ursula her mother kept her very close to her and tried to hide the star that Ursula wore as well.
Ursula got sick with whooping cough and her mother was most embarrassed because at night when everyone was quiet, little Ursula could be heard. In fact, the cough echoed. In the corner of the room was a crib and little Ursula was in the crib. Ursula remembers at the age of 5 being alone while her mom went out. Her mom washed clothes in a basin on the stove.
In the middle of the night in 1942, there was a knock on the door, “Auf Machen Auf Machen”!!!!!! (Open the Door Open The Door) There stood an SS officer telling them that they had a pack a suitcase and meet downstairs. “Come with us to the headquarters.” They went in a car to an airplane hanger and were greeting by trucks. Hundreds of people including Ursula’s mother were now being placed in these trucks. There stood Ursula watching her mom being sent to Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen. There, at the age of 5, Ursula stood separated from her mom.
From 1942-1955 Ursula remained in private homes. There were 4 girls to a room and Ursula was very badly abused (sexually). It was something that could not be talked about nor was there anyone to talk to about it. Between the father and the grandfather of the home where Ursula was kept, she endured such a horrific life but learned to accept it. All this happened in the attic. “ I felt dead inside, I didn’t know what the world was. We just lived day by day.” Yes, the war is more than shooting a bullet. “Mentally we were affected. Some of the girls ended up in mental institutions after that. I knew that something was not right.”
There was no education and the only education they received was from the nuns in the catholic school. “Everyone was so mean. I was kept in the class and could not leave until I solved the problem. To this day I remember the question; what is the shortest distance between 2 points? I remember guessing and trying to focus and concentrate and the more I tried the more frustrated I became. Finally, I would answer and they would yell, “WRONG”. So I continued to find the answer. Yes, the answer is a straight line.” Ursula didn’t like school but when she found a passion for something she put her life into learning what she felt was important. To this day Ursula loves history.
Although Ursula’s mother survived the camps, she was very sick and had tuberculosis. After the war, they tried to reunite Ursula with her mom along with other children reuniting with their families. “There were records of everyone.”
A couple of nice people took Ursula, at the age of 8, to see her mom in the hospital but she was unrecognizable. Her mom weighed about 28 Kg (61 lbs). “She was so skinny, with no hair and it was so shocking to see her this way. I gave her a hug but I just couldn’t talk. She just could not respond.”
In 1954, the last home that she lived in, Someone had sent a package of toe ballet shoes to one of the other girls. The girl didn’t want the shoes so she gave them to Ursula. With no television and a huge mirror, Ursula discovered ballet and the home found a way for her to take classes from Madame Martin.
With sore toes and no ribbons on the shoes, she made the shoes her so that she could pursue something that she loved.
Although there were little packages and such to keep the children positive there was a director, Lydiatte, that didn’t seem to get along with Ursula. One day Ursula called her Lydiatte the idiot and she found her self in a dungeon of the home. The director reminded her that this kind of behavior would not be tolerated.
Ursula returned back to Germany where she met her husband from America. Communication was difficult because of the language but Ursula was determined to have love and give love. Ursula had a small wedding. Getting papers to come to America was very difficult but the impossible became possible. He took her to Half Way, Oregon and this became her home. Ursula’s heart broke because her husband cheated on her and so they got divorced. He remarried but he passed at the young age of 45. She has kept her maiden name Israelski.
She is blessed with 2 children a daughter and a son. It is because of her children that she lives in the Southbay.
So, who is Ursula today?
At the age of 83, she listens to classical music, ballet, and exercises. She speaks to students and continues to remind them that what happened can never happen again. There was a question from a student wanting to know if she was proud to be Jewish. For Ursula, being Jewish is who she is and there is no denying it. She is proud for what Jewish s people have accomplished, especially in Israel. She still gets nightmares but she loves speaking because by getting it out, it is not held inside. She feels that by speaking it is something that her mom would be proud of and she even sees her mom when she speaks, knowing that it is the right thing to continue telling the story. She admits that most of her life she felt like a failure but today knows that she has much to be proud of.
She is a volunteer in the Chula Vista Civic Branch Library stocking the books. She loves to knit and create art and sells her work that she has donated to the library.
What does freedom mean to Ursula? “Freedom means being able to go places without asking for permission. Freedom means being able to talk and be the way you want without being afraid.”
What is your legacy? “ You have to respect everybody. You have to have tolerance. Even if you don’t agree, let it go. Don’t be a perpetrator. Don’t be a victim and don’t be a bystander. Be yourself. Let things go and don’t take it home with you.”
Ursula says that she is not perfect but she tries to do the right thing. If she sees something that is not right, she mentions it to someone.
If you happen to see the beautiful redhead that looks 38 but really is 83, give her a big Shalom.
Watch her story: