Jan 12, 2012 — For years, Dana Fast from Lake Clear has been known in the Adirondacks as a master gardener and an active local volunteer. What few people know is that she grew up as a secular Jewish family in Warsaw, Poland. Her name was Lilka Miron. In 1939 she and her family were caught up in the German invasion and the Holocaust that followed.
They were forced into the infamous Warsaw ghetto and lived in hiding for years until Poland was liberated by the Soviet Union. Fast has written a new book about her harrowing experience called “My Nine Lives.” She sat down to talk with Brian Mann, who has our profile.
It’s easy to forget is that in the 1930s, big cities like Warsaw were modern places. This isn’t ancient history were talking about. This was a cosmopolitan world with cars and books, music and telephones.
Dana Fast was a little girl living in an upper middle class Jewish family. They were secular and educated and had intermarried with Christians.
Now in her 80s, Fast remembers when that normal, stable world began to change. "The first thing I heard was talk among the adults. What was going on in Germany. What might be here. We were in danger. Everybody was scared," she said.
The Nazis swept over Poland in 1939. Dana Fast’s family were eventually forced to move from their apartment, crowded into a single room in the infamous Warsaw ghetto.
Fast recalls those days through the eyes of a child, running through the streets with her friends. "Whenever you go, you hit the wall. And the wall was seven or eight feet brick wall with barbed wire and glass on top. It was impenetrable. Wherever you go, you hit the wall. I hated it. And of course, I hated the Germans."
Fast says children learned to avoid the German’s green uniforms. But as the months passed, life inside that ghetto wall grew more claustrophobic. The horrors were impossible to escape, even for a little girl.
"There was a little kid playing in the gutter," she recalls. "[A Gestapo soldier] grabbed the little kid and smashed his head against the wall. This was a thing, I had nightmares for many, many years."
In time, Nazi policy toward the Jews shifted from cruelty to deliberate genocide. As other Jews were being rounded up and deported to concentration camps, Fast’s parents used their contacts in Warsaw’s Christian community to escape the ghetto. The family separated and went into hiding. Just eleven years old, Dana Fast was sent far into the countryside with her little brother.
"I changed my identity, my brother changed his identity," she said. "We were different people. I was supposed to be Polish Catholic girl. I was supposed to know all these things and I didn't. I was asked to play this role and I never got the script. So this was really hard for me."
They moved from safehouse to safehouse. For a time Dana Fast lived with Catholic nuns in an orphanage. Her parents, meanwhile, used forged identity papers and lived in hidden apartments. But while trying to visit his young son, Fast’s father was spotted by German police.
"My father was killed in June of 1943. He went to the suburb on the train and he just happened to come on the Gestapo who was looking for somebody. He was in the wrong time in the wrong place."
When her father tried to run, Fast says, the Gestapo shot him down. For years, memories like these were closed away.
Fast says she didn’t like to talk or think about the war, even when her own daughter Yvonna began asking about their family’s history. "When she was in school, they are learning about Holocaust," said Fast. "She was trying to ask me questions and I didn't want to say a word. I didn't want to talk about it."
But Fast says writing the book was cathartic. "I was there, walking the streets. I feel relief that I got it out of myself," she said.
Dana Fast lives now in Lake Clear. Her new book is called “My Nine Lives.” It’s dedicated to the people who hid her during the war and gave her shelter and helped her to survive.