Haberkorn (Schipper), Bertha
Military Personnel, Russian (Medic)
Lwow (Poland), Majdanek, Berlin
Mrs. Haberkorn was born in 1921 in Lwow, Poland. She was the youngest of four children, two boys and two girls, of a conservative Jewish family. Her father, Chaim, was a tailor and her mother, Toby, was a housewife. Lwow was a city of approximately 500,000 people, 40% of whom were Jews. She attended public school and was tutored at home in Hebrew. She recalls that students at the universities distributed anti-Semitic literature. At first her family was reassured by the peace agreement between the Soviet Union and Germany, but when Hitler attacked the Soviet Union in 1941 Mrs. Haberkorn’s parents encouraged all their children to leave Lwow and find active ways to fight back.
Within a week of the German attack on the Lwow airport on September 1, 1941, Mrs. Haberkorn enlisted in the Russian army and was accepted immediately as a medic in light of her previous training as a health aide. Her brothers likewise enlisted in the Russian army and her sister joined a partisan group. Her parents remained in Lwow where her mother was recovering from surgery. Of her immediate family, only Mrs. Haberkorn survived the war.
Mrs. Haberkorn was assigned to an infantry unit and was responsible for retrieving the wounded from the battlefield and caring for them, often in very rugged conditions. In one attack, at an airport near Petrovsky, a German plane disguised its markings and flag so as to look like a Russian aircraft. It flew very close to the ground and executed a devastating ground attack leaving many dead and wounded, including Mrs. Haberkorn who suffered wounds on her face and severe shell shock. She spent two weeks in the hospital before returning to her army unit.
Travelling with the infantry, Mrs. Haberkorn passed through the Majdanek concentration camp after the Germans had hastily fled. At Lublin she observed the contents of a warehouse filled with the clothing, shoes, and other property of Jews who had been liquidated. She also viewed several mass graves around Lublin. She was with the Russian army during the capture of Berlin on May 9, 1945 and received two medals from the Russian government—a victory medal and a medal for Berlin.
After liberation, in June 1945, Mrs. Haberkorn returned to Lwow to search for family and friends but her apartment and that of her former neighbors were now occupied by Russians. She remained in Lwow for two months during which she met a former neighbor, a young woman who had an infant at the time of the German occupation of Lwow. Since the baby had been born with jaundice, he had not yet been circumcised according to Jewish custom. When the young woman was taken away for questioning by the Germans she was able to conceal her Jewish identity because of her Ukrainian appearance and because her son’s anatomy did not reveal his ethnicity. Fearing that she would be turned in again to the Nazis, the young woman escaped to work on a farm near Tarnopol where she lived out the war in hiding as a Ukrainian.
In Lwow, Mrs. Haberkorn also reunited with a childhood friend who would become her husband, Joseph Haberkorn, himself a survivor of labor and concentration camps. They lived in displaced person camps in Poland and Germany until they were permitted to immigrate to the United States in 1951. They lived for a year with her maternal uncle in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania and then settled in Cleveland, Ohio where they began their family. The Haberkorns have two daughters and four grandchildren. In 1989, they moved to Oak Park, Michigan.
Mrs. Haberkorn suffered from nervousness and nightmares after the war, and continues to experience discomfort from injuries and living conditions experienced in the army. The sole survivor of an extended family of over forty members in Lwow at the time of the war, Mrs. Haberkorn points to her strong will and the values of her parents as factors in her survival. She was taught to take action and become involved and remains a politically and socially active member of her community.
Date of Interview: February 18, 1996
Length of Interview: 1 hour 10 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Jacqueline Zeff