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Short biography
Anna Heilman was born Hana Wajcblum to a middle-class assimilated Polish Jewish family in Warsaw. She had two older sisters, Sabina and Esther. During World War II, the family was forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. Sabina managed to escape to Russia and later settled in Sweden. Anna was a member of a youth movement called Hashomer Hatzair. As the Warsaw Ghetto uprising got underway in April 1943, the 14-year-old girl was unsure whether to fight or to stay with her parents; she ultimately chose to stay. With her parents, she and Esther were deported to the Maidanek death camp, where her parents were immediately murdered. Anna and Esther were sent to Auschwitz in September 1943. There she joined other prisoners in plotting to blow up the crematoria. She, Esther, and other women smuggled gunpowder out of the munitions factory in their clothes and passed it from insider to insider until it reached the Sonderkommando. Esther was betrayed to the Gestapo and she and several friends were tortured for months for information. But they never gave up Anna's name. On January 5, 1945, Esther and her friends were hanged. Two weeks later, in the face of the advancing Red Army, the Nazis evacuated the surviving inmates of the camp on a death march in freezing conditions. Anna was sent to Ravensbrück and then to Neustadt-Glewe, where she was finally liberated by the Soviets in May 1945. After the war, she was reunited with Sabina and emigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine. In 1947, she married Joshua Heilman, a Pole who had gone to Palestine to attend university one week before the outbreak of the war. In the new State of Israel, Anna had two daughters and earned a degree in social work. The family eventually emigrated to the USA in 1958, setting in Boston. In 1960, they moved to Ottawa, Canada. Anna worked with The Children's Aid Society in Ottawa as a bilingual (English-French) social worker. She become the supervisor of the English-French unit and eventually retired in 1990. In 1991, she revealed to her son-in-law, Sheldon Schwartz, that she had kept a diary in Auschwitz. It had been confiscated and destroyed during a search but she managed to recreate the entire document from memory during the time she spent in a displaced persons camp in 1945. Sheldon persuaded Anna to translate the diary into English and the two worked together for 10 years on writing and editing. Her memoir, Never Far Away: The Auschwitz Chronicles of Anna Heilman, was published in 2001. She was among those featured in Unlikely Heroes (2003), a film about Jewish resistance during World War II.
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