The Story of Cilla Rotblat 1921-2005
Cilla Rotblat née Friedman was born in the small Polish town of Sochaczew. At the outbreak of the war, when she was around 18 years old, Cilla and her boyfriend (who later became her husband), Yaakov Laifer, sought refuge 50km away in the capital city of Warsaw, only to find the situation even more dangerous than in their hometown. After narrowly escaping the bombing of buildings where they had taken shelter, Cilla and Yaakov faced a treacherous return by foot to Sochaczew, which by then was occupied by the Germans.
At this point, the elders of the Sochaczew Jewish community took the difficult decision to advise the youngsters to flee towards Russia. Anyone too young, old or frail to make the journey stayed behind. It later became apparent that those that remained in Sochaczew were taken to the Warsaw Ghetto, where some were transferred to the death camp, Treblinka. None of them survived the war.
Cilla and Yaakov were amongst those that made the trek towards Russia. They were married in Bialystok before being arrested by the Soviets and transported to a city in the depths of Siberia called Magnitogorsk, situated in the Ural Mountains. They saw out the war there, Yaakov working in copper mines and Cilla working in the camp. Against the odds, they survived slave labour, horrific living conditions and many traumatic events, including the loss of their first child, a daughter called Bat-Sheva.
After the war, fearful of returning to Sochaczew, Cilla and Yaakov were taken to a camp for displaced people in Austria. They stayed there as refugees and eventually settled in the newly established state of Israel. They went on to have two more children together, a daughter called Yona and Dalya’s father, Dov with 20 grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Dalya tells her grandmother’s story using testimony from her grandmother and from other with similar experiences of that time.
Presented by Dalya Wittenberg
A post-graduate of languages and International Studies from Leeds University and University of Sydney Australia, Dalya works as a Civil Servant in the International Directorate, Global Health Group at the Department of Health & Social Care. She is also the creator of the blog and podcast ‘A Fine Balance’, about work, life and the pursuit of balance. Dalya lives in Hertfordshire with her husband and three children.
Dalya began sharing the story of her grandmother, Cilla Rotblat, following a visit to Poland. Being there in person had a profound impact and instilled in Dalya a responsibility to preserve the memory of her grandmother’s journey of survival. Though her grandmother would make light of her suffering, to Dalya her story was both remarkable and heroic.
Dalya recognises the importance of maintaining a human connection to Holocaust education so it can be applied to the modern day. In sharing her grandmother’s story, Dalya hopes to inspire other grandchildren to connect with their grandparents’ history, especially while they are still alive to answer questions.