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For the first 15 years, there wasn’t much unusual about the life of Judith Shaked, née Stiasny. She lived with her parents, Irma and Jakub Stiasny, and her brother, Ota, in the town of Rajhrad near the Czech industrial city Brno. The Stiasnys were Jewish, but not terribly religious; as they were the only Jews in their town, they had no Jewish communal life to speak of, so Sabbaths and holidays were observed, and the kids studied with a rabbi in another town to learn traditions. Shaked hardly felt different at all. She knew, of course — they all knew — what was happening in Germany and in nearby Austria, but no one felt that democratic Czechoslovakia would succumb. In the fall of 1938, her father’s health failing, Shaked went to live with an aunt and uncle in Prague. There she was introduced to Zionism.
“In the spring of 1939, the Youth Aliyah school was founded in Prague,” Shaked explained. It was understood “that soon Jewish pupils will be barred from their schools,” and the Youth Aliyah school was created to provide a seamless transition in education. Shaked registered and was accepted. “All the pupils were members of Zionist youth movements, and many of them were my friends from Young Maccabi,” she recalled. “We studied mostly Judaism.” October 24, 1939, Shaked traveled to Denmark with 25 other teens, the second group of the aliyot. She was 15 years old.
“It was difficult to say goodbye to our parents, but it was much more difficult for our parents to make the decision to send us away,” said Ann Steiner, née Federer, another member of Youth Aliyah. She is one year younger than Shaked. Steiner spoke to me from Israel, where she’d gone for the reunion; she lives in Canada: “It was very difficult for my mother — I heard her crying every night — and for my father, too. But my father said the situation is like we are in a burning house and the only way to be saved is to get out.”
“I was taken in by the family of Christian Olsen,” Shaked explained from her home in Israel. The Olsens were older, with eight grown children. “The conditions there were not easy. It was a humble two-room house with no electricity and no running water, but my foster parents received me warmly and took care of me as much as they could. I treasure them for this and am grateful to them all my life.