Clara Isaacman UNESCO 2014

Clara Isaacman (née Heller) was born in Borsa, Romania, before WWII. Due to rampant anti-Semitism, her family left Romania and moved to Antwerp, Belgium in
the late 1920s, when Clara was a child. Clara’s father, Shalom, was in the diamond business and owned a soda factory. Clara attended a Hebrew school and a public
school in Antwerp.

During the German invasion of Belgium in May 1940, the Heller family’s two attempts to flee the country failed and they remained in Nazi-occupied Antwerp. When a new school year began, Clara, along with other Jewish students, was excluded from public school. Clara’s brother Herz was deported to Auschwitz in 1941. In 1942, Clara’s sister’s music teacher, Mr. Jäger, provided shelter to the Heller family, hiding them in a bakery basement and, afterward, with a Catholic family named Adams. During the days when her family was in hiding, her father ventured out to exchange valuables for bread. On one trip, he was arrested by the Nazis, deported, and murdered in a gas chamber. Clara, her mother, younger sister, and brother hid for a period of two and one-half years in eighteen different locations. They were liberated in Hoboken, Belgium by the British armed forces in September 1944.

In July 1945, Clara married Daniel Isaacman, a U.S. soldier whose unit was stationed in Antwerp at that time. She arrived in the United States in March 1946. Clara and Daniel had an adopted son, Yonathan. Clara was active in Holocaust education, speaking about her wartime experience at universities such as Princeton, Penn State, Drexel, and Rutgers. She accompanied international students on trips to Auschwitz and Israel, published a book about her experiences called Clara’s Story, and was an active member of the Philadelphia Holocaust survivor community. During one of her trips to Auschwitz she found her brother Herz’s name on the list of those who perished in the death camp.

The interview was conducted on January 10, 1997 in Philadelphia, PA, United States; interviewer: Irene Dansky; videographer: Abraham Holtz. Clara Isaacman died of cancer on November 16, 2001.

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