Helen, or Potyo as she was known to her family, was the youngest daughter of Teresa (Halpert) and Meinhart Katz. She had four older sisters and an older brother. Though her town was small, it hosted cultural institutions, such as visiting opera and theater companies. Potyo loved to read, and her mother would take her to the library every week.
Potyo's father emigrated to the United States. He left Hungary to find work and prepare a new home for his family. He obtained visas for his wife and children so that they could join them. The visas arrived in Hungary on December 8, 1941, just as Hungary, as an ally of Germany, declared war on the United States. Unable to bring his family to the United States, Mr. Katz began arranging for visas to Palestine. He wanted to get his family out of Hungary as soon as possible, and would later find a way for them to join him in the United States.
The Germans invaded Hungary in March 1944. The visas arrived four weeks later. Potyo's family was herded by the Germans into a closed-off ghetto, along with all the thousands of Jews who lived in the surrounding area. There was little food or medicine, and many people died.
On May 29, 1944, the Germans emptied the ghetto. Its residents were marched down the main street of Kisvarda, in front of their former neighbors and friends, to the train station. There, Potyo and her family were herded into an overcrowded cattle car. They travelled under conditions that barely sustained life. Three days later, they arrived at the Auschwitz death camp. Potyo and her mother were immediately separated from her brother and sisters, and were murdered. Potyo was thirteen years old.