“Hope of the Future”
OLP Grandmother & Survivor Shares Her Holocaust Experience
By Lisa Danaher, English Department
Last summer, World Literature Honors students read Ruta Sepetys’ Between Shades of Gray– a fictional account of 15-year-old Lithuanian Lina Vilkas’ arrest by Soviet Secret Police, grueling six-week train ride, and years of hard labor in a Siberian prison camp during Stalin’s ethnic cleansing of the Baltic Region. As the class discussed the novel on the first day of school, Alanna Hine ’20 revealed that her paternal grandmother lived Lina’s story as a young girl.
At OLP for Grandparents’ Day, Alanna’s grandma, Irene Hine, shared with Alanna’s class the horrors of her family’s detainment in labor camps under both Stalin and Hitler. In Stalin’s efforts to collectivize Soviet Union farmland, her German-born grandfather was stripped of his property and detained. Escaping, and believing they’d be safer in Germany, her family fled there. But “there was no Google then,” as Ms. Hine reminded the girls, so how could her family know that Hitler was also detaining those he deemed “foreign”? Thus she, her parents, and her grandparents found themselves in a labor camp in their German homeland.
For years, they lived in this place where “everything was gray.” Ms. Hine told the girls that her father would rather die than serve Hitler, so the family escaped to the German countryside. But even there, she experienced the violence of war: around-the-clock bombings and the loud wails of sirens, while huddling in a hill bunker for safety. With tears, she vividly recalled the bombing of a nearby building and the scattered bodies of victims. Her grandmother would hold her tight during those terrifying times and remind her, “This is temporary.”
A family of great faith, they held the Eucharist to their chests and prayed. Those prayers were answered seven years later when the family emigrated to the United States as displaced persons who had lost everything. Here, they finally felt free to live the American dream, beginning with nothing in an Illinois shack and later retiring comfortably. Irene Hine excelled in school, attended college, and became an AP English teacher. Now she works as a licensed psychotherapist and parish volunteer in Arizona.
World Literature Honors students expected to hear a personal account of a tragic event in world history, and they certainly did. What they will remember most, however, are the inspiring life lessons that Irene Hine shared with them. “There are always obstacles that cause us pain,” she said, “but you have to have confidence in your gifts and talents – be kind, be fair, and be just. You are the hope of the future.” Wise words from a remarkable woman.