In a special International Holocaust Remembrance Day program, join noted historians and co-authors Dr. Elizabeth B. White and Dr. Joanna Sliwa to learn about The Counterfeit Countess: The Jewish Woman Who Rescued Thousands of Poles During the Holocaust, the astonishing story of the Jewish mathematician Dr. Josephine Janina Mehlberg, drawing on Mehlberg’s own unpublished memoir. White and Sliwa will be in conversation with Holocaust expert Dr. Robin Judd.
Registration is on Eventbrite. The purchase of The Counterfeit Countess waives the $12 registration fee.
The JEWISH COMMUNITY CENTER, MELTON CENTER FOR JEWISH STUDIES at The Ohio State University, OSU DEPARTMENT OF HISTORY, TEMPLE ISRAEL, and WOMEN'S PHILANTHROPY at JEWISHCOLUMBUS are Gramercy’s partners for this exclusive program.
World War II and the Holocaust have given rise to many stories of resistance and rescue, but The Counterfeit Countess is unique. It tells the remarkable, unknown story of “Countess Janina Suchodolska,” a Jewish woman who rescued more than 10,000 Poles imprisoned by Poland’s Nazi occupiers.
Mehlberg operated in Lublin, Poland, headquarters of Aktion Reinhard, the SS operation that murdered 1.7 million Jews in occupied Poland. Using the identity papers of a Polish aristocrat, she worked as a welfare official while also serving in the Polish resistance. With guile, cajolery, and steely persistence, the “Countess” persuaded SS officials to release thousands of Poles from the Majdanek concentration camp. She won permission to deliver food and medicine—even decorated Christmas trees—for thousands more of the camp’s prisoners. At the same time, she personally smuggled supplies and messages to resistance fighters imprisoned at Majdanek, where 63,000 Jews were murdered in gas chambers and shooting pits. Incredibly, she eluded detection, and ultimately survived the war and emigrated to the US.
Drawing on the manuscript of Mehlberg’s own unpublished memoir, supplemented with prodigious research, Elizabeth White and Joanna Sliwa, professional historians and Holocaust experts, have uncovered the full story of this remarkable woman. They interweave Mehlberg’s sometimes harrowing personal testimony with broader historical narrative. Like The Light of Days, Schindler’s List, and Irena’s Children, The Counterfeit Countess is an unforgettable account of inspiring courage in the face of unspeakable cruelty.
Dr. Elizabeth “Barry” White recently retired from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where she served as historian and as Research Director for the USHMM’s Center for the Prevention of Genocide. Prior to working for the USHMM, Barry spent a career at the US Department of Justice working on investigations and prosecutions of Nazi criminals and other human rights violators. She served as deputy director and chief historian of the Office of Special Investigations and as deputy chief and chief historian of the Human Rights and Special Prosecutions Section. She lives in Falls Church, Virginia.
Dr. Joanna Sliwa is a historian at the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) in New York, where she also administers academic programs. She previously worked at the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, and at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. She has taught Holocaust and Jewish history at Kean University and at Rutgers University and has served as a historical consultant and researcher, including for the PBS film In the Name of Their Mothers: The Story of Irena Sendler. Her first book, Jewish Childhood in Kraków: A Microhistory of the Holocaust won the 2020 Ernst Fraenkel Prize awarded by the Wiener Holocaust Library. She lives in Linden, New Jersey.
Robin Judd is a specialist in Jewish, transnational, and gender history, with particular interests in Holocaust studies and the history of antisemitism. She is the author of the forthcoming book, Between Two Worlds: Jewish War Brides After the Holocaust (University of North Carolina Press) and Contested Rituals: Circumcision, Kosher Butchering, and German-Jewish Political Life in Germany, 1843-1933 (Cornell University Press). Robin is currently the President of the Association for Jewish Studies, the largest international learned society and professional organization representing Jewish studies and is a voting member of Ohio's Holocaust and Genocide Memorial and Education Commission. She has received seven teaching awards, including the OSU Alumni Award for Distinguished Teaching.