Paula Banks, wife of Victor Banks, and mother of 6 died on March 4 at the age of 85. She died peacefully at her home in Oak Park, Illinois.
Paula, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, was born on February 3, 1927 in the small town of Dzialoszyce, Poland, located near Krakow. She was the only surviving daughter of Josek Zyto and Kajla Lejzerowicz who had two other daughters, Chaja and Chana. Of the numerous Jewish relatives Paula had in Dzialoszyce, she was the only known survivor.
As a young girl, Paula moved with her parents and sisters to the nearby town of Bielsko, Poland. During the German occupation she was forced into the Bielsko ghetto with her family. Upon deportation she was separated from her parents and sisters, never to see or hear from them again. Bielsko lost most of its Jewish population in Auschwitz which was located only 17 miles away. Paula almost never spoke about her past, but like most Holocaust survivors, its effects on her were many.
Paula survived the Holocaust as a slave laborer under the Germans within the Gros-Rosen system, Her life almost ended in a death march which took her from the Neuzalz slave labor camp on January 26, 1945 to Flossenburg, Germany. This death march covered almost 200 miles and went on for 45 days ending on March 11, 1945. Here 1000 Jewish women who had been working as slave laborers, were ordered out of the camp and marched south westwards accompanied by beatings and shootings. By the time the marchers reached Flossenberg, Paula was one of only 200 women who had not been killed. Eight days later Paula and the other women survivors were evacuated again, this time by train, and several more died by the time the train reached Bergen-Belsen. She then became an inmate at Bergen Belsen's women's camp; a camp completely overflowing with death and disease. Suffering with typhus and starving, she was barely conscious when found.
One of the very few recollections she shared of her Holocaust experience was being stepped on by one of the liberating British soldiers who thought she was dead as she lie on the ground. The young man called out to his fellow soldiers that he found a live person.
After a long convalescence and already fluent in several languages, Paula was taken under the wing of Jewish philanthropist, Lily Montagu in England. Paula was given the position of ward orderly at the Maude Nathan Home for children in southeast London where she learned to speak English, and started a new life for herself. While at a dance one evening in nearby Beckenham, Paula met Victor Banks, an Englishman with a similar adventurous spirit and a motorcycle. They took trips to Brighton and Margate together, enjoying the English countryside as they travelled to and from the sea. It was already clear they had broader horizons to conquer.
They soon decided to marry and leave England to try out Canada, a country that was far away but promised good job prospects. Paula and Victor settled in Toronto in a Polish neighborhood, and both found jobs quickly. It would be the only time since leaving Germany that Paula lived among people who shared a common Eastern European past. There were other Polish WWII refugees and opportunities to speak her native language again and to enjoy familiar foods.
In 1954 Paula and her husband made another dramatic move, this time to Chicago. It's well-known family lore that both Paula and Victor landed jobs their very first day in the city. And it was in Chicago that they settled and raised a family. Chicago offered her husband the kind of bricklaying opportunities that kept food on the table, and by 1962 she and her husband and children moved into the home they bought; Paula and her husband lived in their brick bungalow for 48 years.
As difficult as it was for Paula to trust and to make friends, she was able to get beyond her Holocaust past through her love of children and her role as mother. She had few modern amenities and no relatives around as she raised a family of five but she never seemed to mind. She had a daycare business in her home, helped her children with their paper route, and had part-time jobs to help make ends meet. She worked hard, and in doing so, instilled a strong work ethic in her children.
Paula also loved gardening. She spent many summers in her backyard, and was always experimenting with different perennials, finally settling on onions as her favorite.
Paula is survived by her husband Victor, sons Michael, Ben and Victor Jr., daughters Monica and Judy, and nine grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her beloved son, David who died in 1965.