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Aranka Siegal, née Meizlik, was born to a large Jewish family in Beregszász, Czechoslovakia (present-day Berehove, Ukraine). Her parents were Rise Rosner and her first husband Meyer Meizlik, who died when Aranka was an infant. Her mother changed their surname to Davidowitz after her second marriage to Ignac Davidowitz. During World War II, some of Aranka's siblings and other relatives were taken away by the Nazis. She was banned from school at age 12. In 1944, when she was 13, Aranka, her mother, and her siblings Iboya, Sándor, and Joli were forced into the Beregszász brick factory, which had been turned into a Jewish ghetto, before being deported to the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. There Aranka and her older sister Iboya were separated from the rest of the family and never saw them again. They were later sent to Bergen-Belsen. In April 1945, the two girls were liberated by British troops and taken to Sweden by the Swedish Red Cross to recover. They emigrated to the USA in 1948. In 1951, at age 21, Aranka married Gilbert Siegal, ten years her senior, a lawyer who had served as an officer in the U.S. Air Force during the war.

They lived in the suburbs of New York City, where they raised their two children. In her mid-forties, Aranka went back to school and earned a bachelor's degree in social anthropology from New York University in 1977. That same year, she began hosting a radio show on which she talked about her experiences during the Holocaust. She also became a substitute teacher and lecturer in schools and colleges. In 1981, she published the first of her three autobiographical books,
Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary, 1930-1944, which won the Newbery Honor and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award in 1982. Subsequent volumes in the series were Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation 1945-1948 (2003), and Memories of Babi (2008), a series of stories based on her childhood visits to her maternal grandmother on her farm in Komjaty in the Carpathian Mountains. Her books have been translated into many different languages including French, Hungarian, Italian, Japanese, Dutch, and German.
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