2024 Yom HaShoah Commemoration will tell Halina Preston’s Story

By Matt Golden
Director, Jewish Community Relations Council

The intricate stories of the Holocaust are as unique as snowflakes, melting. Each story of loss or survival is extraordinarily rare and precious but fading. Yet, when combined, those individual tragedies lose their definition and become one inconceivable catastrophe. Two-thirds of Europe’s Jews died in the space of a few years; the unbelievable losses they suffered, and that humanity suffered with millions of other deaths, defy comprehension. Perhaps then, it is only by studying the individual story- the tiny grain of sand in the mountain of loss—that we can even begin to do honor to the Holocaust and fulfill our responsibility to keep those memories alive. This year, at our Community’s commemoration of Yom HaShoah, we will do exactly that, focusing on the story of loss and the survival of Halina Zipporah Wind Preston, who survived a 14-month ordeal hiding in German-occupied Lviv Poland. Her son, David Lee Preston, protects her legacy and the diaries that Halina kept amid the darkness.

Halina’s story is as much about luck as it is about perseverance. From hiding with her family in the basement of their home while her grandmother was shot knocking at the kitchen door, being sent away by her family from her home in Turka right before the remainder of the 6,000 Jewish residents of that village were killed, being betrayed by her landlord in Lviv to German custody only to walk out of the Weisenhof prison through an unlocked gate, to being saved by Polish Catholic sewer workers for more than a year, hidden underground, the precious jewel of her life almost lost. Almost every other Jew in the Lviv Ghetto in Poland was murdered.

Somehow, during that ordeal, Halina kept a diary comprising of 167 handwritten pages of poetry and prose in her native Polish. Halina was brought into the light when Allied forces liberated Lviv in 1944 and, in 1947, made her way to America with her diary. Her diary did not see the light of day until 2015, 35 years after her death. Her story of survival was dramatized by Agnieszka Holland in the Oscar-nominated Film, In Darkness in 2011.

We will hear and honor Halina’s story—and the story of her husband George Edward Preston, who survived Auschwitz and Buchenwald—told by their only son, David Lee Preston.

“On Yom HaShoah six years ago, I gave Louisville the first taste of my mother’s sewer writings, which I’d discovered three years earlier when cleaning out my childhood home in Delaware,” David said. “This year I will share more passages from those notebooks.”

David spent 40 years as a writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer. One of his articles – a remembrance of his father – was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and received awards from the Overseas Press Club of America and the Associated Press Managing Editors of Pennsylvania. He has been a senior editor at CNN.com and his articles have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.

We are extraordinarily honored to have David Lee Preston present in our community, and he is graciously donating his time to our annual Yom HaShoah commemoration.

As a community, we have maintained our Yom HaShoah commemorations for decades. As we change with the world around us, it is important to keep the tenets of this commemoration alive. This is especially so right now. The Hamas attacks, the war in Gaza, the lives lost have made the Shoah seem somehow more distant. Yet, as Rabbi Leonard Devine, z’l, said at a Yom HaShoah commemoration more than 45 years ago, we must keep these memories alive.

“[T]he more we dwell on what the victims endured, the more profoundly we must attempt to make our Judaism a meaningful and vital factor in the framework of our lives. Those six million Jews were killed because they were Jews, because their Jewishness represented something abhorrent and detestable. . . They were a symbol of human conscience, of dedication to humaneness. We have to make that symbolism live because they are not here to do it. In this sense, all of us are a shattered remnant.”
 (From the April 1977 issue of Community)  


Please join us for this year’s community Yom Hashoah commemoration, jointly brought to you by the Jewish Federation, the Jewish Community Relations Council, the synagogues Adath Jeshurun, Keneseth Israel, the Temple and Temple Shalom, which will take place at 7 p.m. on May 6, 2024 at Keneseth Israel. Please register by going to jewishlouisville.org/YomHaShoah2024


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