By the time Paula Burger was nine years old, she had escaped death more times than she could count.
Burger, who lives in Denver, is Jewish and survived the Holocaust by hiding in the forest of what’s now Belarus with more than a thousand other Jews. In all, she spent a little over two years of her childhood in the Naliboki forest alongside her father and brother.
The encampment, which has been called a “Jerusalem in the Woods,” grew to include a school, an infirmary, a metal workshop and a bakery. But it was under constant threat, not just from the Nazis but also famine and disease.
Paula Burger has shared this amazing story over the years with many school children. She speaks in classrooms all over Metro Denver.
Her new book is called called “Paula’s Window," written with author Andrea Jacobs.
She writes about arriving at the forest camp with her younger brother, Isaac: "As we strolled through the curious group, bodies parted like the Red Sea. Men blinked away tears and congratulated my father. Mothers regarded us with visible pain because their own children were lost to them. Isaac laughed, extending his arms to all the women. Some turned away from him.”
Burger also writes about the relationships that developed in the camp: “Hundreds of Jews dwelled in the dense forest, including countless women who had lost their husbands and children. These women gravitated toward men who could offer them protection. If a man accepted a woman as his companion, she became his forest wife. [This] would not be tolerated in traditional Jewish society, but there was nothing traditional about our circumstances.”
The story of the forest camp Burger describes was turned into the 2008 movie "Defiance," starring Daniel Craig.