Heshie Heller

Born May 9, 1923 - Borsa, Rumania

Heshie, the son of Sholom and Rose Heller, was born in Rumania in 1923. His parents left Rumania in 1932, for Antwerp, Belgium, after his father was beaten up on the way to vote in a local election, just because he was a Jew. Heshie's father set up a soda-bottling plant in the back of their house. Heshie lived with his parents and his sisters, Clara and Frieda, and his brother Elie.

The Heller family adapted well to life in Antwerp. Jews were well-integrated into Belgian society and culture, and were treated like everyone else. Heshie, his brother and sisters attended public school and had many non-Jewish friends. His favorite subjects were math and arts and crafts. He hoped that he would someday create original jewelry. He was also active in a Jewish youth group and dreamed of moving to Israel. Germany invaded Belgium in May 1940. The Heller family at first attempted to flee to France, but were turned back at the border. They then attempted to flee across the Channel to England, but were unable to get passage on a boat. They returned to their home in Antwerp.

In October 1940, the Germans began passing harsh antisemitic measures. Jews were barred from most professions. Many Jews became impoverished. After December 1941, Jews were forbidden from attending public schools and associating with non-Jews. In May 1942, the Germans issued orders requiring young Jewish men and boys to report to forced labor camps. Heshie, unable to continue his schooling, work, or participate in sports, felt that by reporting to labor camp he would help his family. Heshie was sent by the Germans to work on a wall being built on the coast of France.

Heshie was forced to work from 12 to 16 hours a day. The food was inadequate and the youths were exposed to horrendous conditions. Heshie eventually caught pneumonia and, unable to work, was sent to the Auschwitz death camp. Somehow he recovered, and was offered the position of "kapo," someone who was given privileges in return for doing "special" distasteful jobs for the Germans. When he refused, Heshie was murdered.

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