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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives



DATE:                       AUGUST 1, 2008


Transcript (PDF)


George Rishfeld was born Jurek Ryszfeld on April 26, 1939 in Warsaw, Poland. He was the first child of a wealthy furrier, Rysiek [Richard] Ryszfeld, and his wife, Lutka [Lucille]. As the Germans invaded Poland a few months later, his father joined the Polish army while George and his mother fled east to Vilna. There, his family reunited but soon found themselves in German-occupied territory. Other family members were killed, but George and his parents were sent to the Vilna ghetto. Around 1943, the Germans began liquidating the ghetto. George was sent to live with a Polish family, who showered him with affection and hid him for the remainder of the war. Yad Vashem has since recognized the three members of the Polish family as Righteous Among the Nations. Meanwhile, George’s mother endured life in the ghetto and his father escaped to join the partisans. As Russian forces advanced and liberated the area, the family was reunited again.

After the war, the family was temporarily housed in a DP camp in or around present-day Lithuania. With the help of a family friend who lived in Brussels, Belgium, the family managed to immigrate. They spent approximately two years in Brussels before immigrating again to the United States, with the help of family members who had immigrated prior to the war. A younger brother was born soon after the family immigrated. The family settled in New York City and struggled to adapt to their new lives. George’s parents found refuge in an active social network of other Polish survivors while George struggled with his identity as a refugee. George completed his education and joined the National Guard in 1957. While stationed in the South, George witnessed the racism that had begun to broil into the Civil Rights movement.

When his enlistment ended, George returned to New York City.  He began working for NBC and trained to be an actor. Eventually, he married and began a career in sales, which took him to Los Angeles, California. George had two daughters with his first wife. After their divorce, George remarried to Pamela in the 1970’s. While still in Los Angeles, George began publically speaking about his family’s experiences during the Holocaust. Later in life, his mother also began sharing some of her experiences. He and Pamela now live in the metropolitan Atlanta area, near their two daughters and five granddaughters. George continues to publically share his experiences.


George introduces his family and explains their social and economic activities prior to war. He relates how he was taken out of the Vilna ghetto and sent into hiding with a Polish family. George recalls the dangers of being in hiding and some of the close calls he remembers. He reminisces about two occasions where his father came to visit him while in hiding. George explains how his family had fled Warsaw for Vilna when the war began and what happened to other family members. He shares what he knows about his parents’ experiences after he was smuggled out of the ghetto.

He considers what his family’s faith meant to them. George tells what happened when the war ended and his parents returned. He describes his mother’s recovery and reaction to her experiences. George outlines what he recalls about being in a DP camp and then immigrating to Brussels, Belgium, where life regained a kind of normalcy. George reflects about his adjustment to freedom. He talks about the challenges he faced after his family immigrated to the United States and settled in New York City. He shares memories of his parents’ active social life with other Polish survivors. He explains why he joined the National Guard after graduating from high school. George discusses his encounters with racism while based in the South during the Civil Rights movement. After returning to New York City, George describes his work at NBC and his efforts to become an actor. He explains how he went into sales and moved to Los Angeles, California after marrying and having two children. George describes how his parents coped with the Holocaust later in life and how he began speaking publically about the experience. The interview closes with George reflecting on the lessons he hopes others will learn.

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