Rhonda Marko honors her mother, Sonia Stul Marko, a survivor of the Holocaust. Sonia remembers living through a dangerous encounter with the SS around 1943. She was 16 years old, and had been fleeing from the Germans and hiding in the woods. On one rare sunny morning, after weeks of continuous rain, she was walking with a younger companion along a roadside, exiting the forest into a glen, enjoying the unaccustomed warmth of the sun. Halfway through the field, she saw two SS men walk into the field from the forested area opposite them. Panicked, with no ground cover available, she circled her companion’s waist with her arm, and jerked them both into an open ditch beside the road, easily seen by anyone passing by. Just as the SS approached the area where they were hiding, a bird flew overhead, and emitted a series of cackles and screams that caused the soldiers to look up at the bird as they walked by. Sonia and her companion were both frozen with fear because they knew that they were completely exposed and visible in the ditch. They were certain that death was only a few moments away.
Sonia escaped death many times during the Holocaust. On another occasion, her guardian, an uncle, had to leave her with a family of friends with whom she would later rejoin her uncle. During the interim, she lacerated her lower leg, the injury cutting through to the bone, rendering her unable to travel with the family to whom her uncle had entrusted her care. They left without her, and after an arduous journey, sought shelter in a barn. That night, the Germans shuttered the barn, surrounded it, and set it ablaze. The entire family she was to have traveled with was incinerated. When she was sixteen, Sonia met her future husband, who was 27. After the war, she spent some time at a Displaced Person’s camp, where her hut became known as the place to go for coffee and a “nosh.” Near the entrance to the camp, and always neat and tidy, it was her hut that was chosen for a visit by Eleanor Roosevelt. After a delightful afternoon together, Mrs. Roosevelt asked if she somehow might repay Sonia’s hospitality. Sonia told her that she had been separated from her sisters since before the war and knew only that they were in Peru and would love to find out their whereabouts. Within a week, Sonia’s photograph was printed in all newspapers in Lima, Peru. A few months later, a letter arrived with the details of where Sonia could find her two sisters.