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Isabella Leitner (1924–2009)

Author of The Big Lie: A True Story

Includes the names: Leitner Isabella

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Isabella Leitner, née Katz, was born to a Jewish family in Kisvárda, a small town in northeastern Hungary, one of six siblings. In 1939, at the start of World War II, her father emigrated to the USA, where he believed he could obtain visas that would allow his family to escape the Nazis. But within a short time, it became impossible for Jews to leave Hungary. In March 1944, Germany invaded the country, and Hungarian policemen forced the Leitner family into a Jewish ghetto. In May of that year, 20-year-old Isabella and her family were deported by the Nazis to Auschwitz. Her mother and youngest sister were selected for death immediately. Isabella and her three sisters Cipi, Chicha, and Regina managed to stay in touch with their brother Philip. Near the end of 1944, Isabella and her sisters were transported to a forced labor camp in Germany called Birnbaumel. In January 1945, the camp inmates were lined up for a forced march in a blizzard to the nearby concentration camp of Bergen-Belsen. She and two sisters slipped away from the line and ran to a nearby farmhouse. There they were soon liberated by the Red Army. The third sister died in Bergen-Belsen. In an effort to get as far away from Nazi Germany as possible, the girls traveled east to Oelsk, and boarded a train for an unknown destination. In April 1945, they arrived at Odessa, where they obtained passage on a ship for the USA. They arrived in Newport News, Virginia, on May 8, 1945 — among the first survivors of Auschwitz to reach the USA -- and were reunited with their father. He took them home in Brooklyn, New York, where they began a new life. Their brother also survived and emigrated to the USA. In 1956, Isabella married Irving Leitner, a writer with whom she had two sons. She wrote about her personal experiences in the book Fragments of Isabella (1978), which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. The Abbey Theater in Ireland produced an award-winning film adapted from the book in 1989. Her second book, Saving the Fragments: From Auschwitz to New York, which told of her life after the camps, was published in 1985. In 1994 these two books, with added material, were combined into Isabella: From Auschwitz to Freedom. She also wrote a children's book, The Big Lie: A True Story, published in 1992.
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