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Yad Vashem Gathering the Fragments - A National Campaign to Rescue Personal Items from the Holocaust Period

Gathering the Fragments

A National Campaign to Rescue Personal Items from the Holocaust Period

A Doll From a Distant Land – The Story of Vera Brand née Lifshitz

Vera and her doll Lalka, Karachi, IndiaVera and her doll Lala, Karachi, India
Vera giving the doll to Yad Vashem at a collection day in HaifaVera giving the doll to Yad Vashem at a collection day in Haifa

A child of two and a half, a large bow tied in her hair, clutching a doll – so far, perfectly ordinary. But in the background are tents that tell a story of wandering and transience and a barbed wire fence that testifies to a life in confinement. Thus, in one snapshot, the photographer immortalized the early childhood of Vera Brand, born into the reality of war.

Although the photograph was taken in Karachi, India, Vera had been born far from there, in Lvov, Poland. Her parents Regina née Kizler and Haim Lifshitz were from Bielsko and arrived in Lvov during their flight eastward following the German occupation in 1939. Vera was born on the 16th of May 1940; three weeks later the family was deported to Siberia. After a month travelling by train they arrived at the city of Aldan in east Siberia where they lived in shacks near the city. Before leaving Poland her parents had sold all their belongings and sewn the gold that they received in return into their clothes. Haim who had been a tradesman before the war smuggled a trolley and sewing machine onto the train and managed a shop in the town. Thanks to this they were able to survive two years under the harsh conditions of Siberia.

Following the agreement for the renewal of diplomatic relations between Poland and the Soviet Union of the 30th of July 1941, all Polish citizens in Soviet camps were granted asylum. A Polish army, 'General Anders’ Army' was established, under the command of the Polish government in exile in London. Later the redeployment of the Polish army from the Soviet territories to the eastern areas under British control was agreed. Together with the soldiers, their families and other civilians were allowed to leave. Between September and March 1942 about 114,000 Poles, both soldiers and civilians, left the Soviet Union. They were transferred by sea to Tehran, which was then under British control.

Haim joined 'General Anders’ Army' and went with them to Paris. Regina, together with her baby and sister-in-law Luba (her brother Avraham's wife - Avraham had emigrated to Eretz Israel in 1939 with forged papers) began their journey westward a few months later and arrived in Tehran in early 1943 (it seems that they were advised where to go by the army). Regina, Vera and Luba were among the group of 'Tehran Children' that included 860 children and 369 accompanying adults who received immigration visas to Eretz Israel from the British Mandate authorities. In January 1943 the group sailed to Karachi in India (today Pakistan). During their stay in the tent encampment in Karachi, Vera was given a doll by an Indian soldier. Vera called her doll Lala (Polish for doll). From Karachi they sailed to Suez and on the 18th of February they arrived in Israel by train.

At that time Haim was serving in Basra, Iraq. When his unit went to Eretz Israel, together with many of the Jewish soldiers, Haim deserted the army and joined his family.

When Vera started kindergarten in Eretz Israel the teacher suggested changing her name to Emunah. Her mother refused but the doll's name was changed to Ilana…

As part of the "Gathering the Fragments" campaign, Vera gave Yad Vashem her doll Ilana and the photograph of herself with the doll in the refugee camp in Karachi.