As Survivors
Liberation is a lifelong process
of setting ourselves free. Fanya's signature
Fanya with Irca at Yad Vashem
As Survivor
I want to teach young people
the importance of daring to resist
never to be perpetrators
never to be bystanders.
Fanya Gottesfeld Heller is a Holocaust survivor, author, and educator, whose life story is a prism of seemingly endless years of fear and suffering at the hands of the Nazis melded with the story of her courage and her saviors’ bravery. Fanya’s tentative peace with her survival – despite the loss of so many loved ones – instilled within her the determination to educate others against hatred and intolerance.
During her years in hiding, her family lived – and witnessed – unspeakable acts of horror and humiliation, with the constant threat of discovery and death. Fanya was hidden along with her parents and brother by Sidor, a compassionate Polish peasant in a dugout in his barn, a narrow hiding space big enough for only two people. Because it needed to hold all four of them, they remained in a crouching position for the duration of the war – nearly two and a half years. There was no air, no light and no water. They did not know day from night and only knew the change of seasons because winter was freezing cold and summer brought the sweltering heat. The rats, mice and lice were their constant companions.
Sidor was later, through Fanya’s efforts, posthumously enshrined as a “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem. In a moving ceremony in Jerusalem, Fanya was reunited with Irka, his daughter who currently lives in Ukraine and continues to this day to remain a part of her life. According to Fanya, “it is a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”
With the survivor population growing older, there is an urgent need to record the events of this most tragic period in history. The mantra of Holocaust remembrance is “Never Again,” but has our world really learned anything from the Holocaust? We cannot forget the suffering and we must not forget the shining examples of heroism and rescue.
“The Holocaust left an indelible mark on my life, reflects Fanya, “and impacted every aspect of my life as a woman, as a Jew and as a mother. And for the legacy of those who perished, for future generations, I can never forget.”
 Fanya's family
Fanya with Elie Wiesel
As Author
My father’s spirit still remains with me.
Before we were chased into hiding,
he took me aside and said,
“If one of us should survive, the world
should know what happened to us.”
Fanya Gottesfeld Heller was born in 1924 into a traditional Jewish family in the small Ukrainian village of Skala. Just over a decade later, Fanya was beset by hunger, marked for death, and faced with the constant threat of execution. Fanya, her parents and brother were hidden from the Nazi death quads through the kindness of two Christian rescuers, a Polish farmer and a Ukrainian militiaman. Despite the incomprehensible conditions, Fanya miraculously survived to live a full life and shares her message of hope.
Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs documents her family’s wartime existence and her complex relationships with her rescuers.
Fanya’s original intent in writing her book, was to uncover the truth about the death of her father which to this day remains unexplained. But in writing her memoirs, she came to understand the importance of her story both as family history for her children and grandchildren and as a contribution to the Holocaust record. The publication of her book was greeted with warm praise for her bravery and described the difficult choices she had to make as she did everything possible to insure the survival of her family.
Her friend, fellow survivor and Nobel Laureate, Elie Wiesel has said, “Everyone who listens to a witness, becomes a witness himself.” In reading Fanya’s story, you too will become a witness.
Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs is included in the curriculum of prestigious educational institutions including Princeton University, Yale, and The University of Connecticut. It served as the basis for her film, Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story, released in 2010 when it was broadcast on PBS and its affiliate stations. Narrated by Richard Gere, the film tells Fanya’s story of survival through archival clips, photographs and live action testimonials and reflects her interaction with inner city teens.
As Educator
For the six million Jews who perished,
including 1½ million children,
it is important to let our children know.
If we don’t teach them,
they cannot know.
Education is the key.
Fanya holds a B.A. and an M.A. in Psychology from the New School for Social Research and honorary degrees from Yeshiva University and Bar-Ilan University. She has also studied Art History at Columbia University, philosophy and literature at the New School for Social Research and family therapy at the Ackerman Institute for the Family.
Fanya’s book, Love in a World of Sorrow: A Teenage Girl’s Holocaust Memoirs, and her documentary film, Teenage Witness: The Fanya Heller Story, are educational tools for the study of the Holocaust.
Fanya has dedicated her life to sharing her message of hope and tolerance. Speaking to inner city students all over the country about her experiences during the Holocaust, the most vital lesson she offers them is that no matter how dire the situation, life is most precious and it is every individual’s right to defend it.
In 1998, The New York State Board of Regents awarded Fanya the Louis E. Yavner Citizen Award in recognition of her outstanding contributions to Holocaust education.
As Social Activist
What the Nazis
could not take away from us,
and what became so important to us,
was the freedom to hold on to
our knowledge and culture.
Fanya is committed to helping people understand the power of goodness in a world of evil, that even one person standing up against perpetrators of evil can make a world of difference. To help future generations better understand the tragedy of the past, Fanya focuses her efforts on non-Jewish groups, especially students from inner cities and diverse neighborhoods.
She also serves on boards of numerous institutions, cultural and charitable organizations, many of which focus on Israel, Jewish education, and the empowerment of women. Through her involvement with the Museum of Jewish Heritage, Fanya sponsors an annual Educators Conference, addressing topics such as Genocide, Women in the Holocaust and Justice After The Holocaust. It is through her involvement in all these causes, that Fanya has sought to give her life meaning and purpose.
As Patron
For decades,
survivors remained silent,
cocooning their scars and pain
with unshed tears
and unheard cries.
It was standing room only at the Sixteenth Annual Fanya Gottesfeld Heller Conference for Educators, when more than 400 teachers gathered at the Museum of Jewish Heritage – A Living Memorial to the Holocaust on Thursday, April 23, 2015. 
This year’s theme was The Holocaust in Literature, an exploration of how literature has the unique power to affect readers, prompting reflection and greater understanding. Dr. Michael Berenbaum and author Alexandra Zapruder discussed why one of the most effective ways to teach about the Holocaust is through literature –including memoirs, diaries, and novels.
Fanya Gottesfeld Heller, sponsor of this conference since its inception, explained why the topic of this conference held such importance for her – and for all educators.
“The thought of young people growing up ignorant and detached from the Holocaust is even more painful than the fears I may have felt about sharing my story.” Mrs. Heller said. “Through first-person accounts and through meticulously researched novels, teachers now have the tools they need to teach students on a philosophical and emotional level about the savage destruction of the Holocaust.”
The evening also included an emotional presentation by Fanya to Professor Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize winning author of Night, with the First Annual Fanya Gottesfeld Heller “Living Words” Award in honor of his life’s work, which has been a source of inspiration for so many readers around the world.

Read Fanya’s remarks

As Mother
I came to realize
that if I didn’t tell my story
from the beginning to end,
my children, my grandchildren
and future generations
would never know the truth of my survival.
The Gift of Life
Fanya’s primary role in life is that of mother, and she views the continuity of her family and it’s traditions as the love of her life. They were the inspiration for her memoirs, Love in a World of Sorrow.
It is important to Fanya that her children know her story. It is a way of allowing her children to know her better and to know the truth about what happened during her years in hiding. It is her testimony; her personal account of a very painful journey chronicled for generations to come.
Fanya takes joy in the lives of her three children, eight grand children and seventeen great grandchildren.
I want to give you hope