Imagine a time when the world was engulfed in chaos, and one woman dared to defy the odds. Born in 1905, Janina Spinner Mehlberg, a Jewish mathematician from Eastern Galicia, would become an unlikely hero during World War II. Adopting the identity of Countess Janina Suchodolska, she negotiated the release of thousands of prisoners from the Nazis, providing food and medicine to countless more, all while concealing her Jewish identity.
The Privileged Childhood and the Call to Serve
Janina enjoyed a privileged childhood, absorbing the Polish patriotism of her class. She excelled in mathematics, obtaining a doctorate in philosophy. As World War II erupted, Janina joined the Polish Main Welfare Council. Little did she know, this decision would set her on a path to save thousands of lives.
A Mathematical Mind Against the Nazi Regime
Janina walked into the Majdanek concentration camp several days a week to meet with Nazi officials, arguing for the release of Polish prisoners. Her mathematical mind gave her insight into Nazi Germany's calculations of life and death. She couldn't direct her efforts toward her fellow Jews but held onto hope that the food she delivered would enrich the soup fed to all prisoners, staving off starvation for thousands of Jews alongside Poles.
The Counterfeit Countess: A Story Nearly Lost to History
Janina's story was nearly lost to history until historians Elizabeth B White and Joanna Sliwa corroborated her memoir and wrote 'The Counterfeit Countess'. Today, Dr. Elizabeth White & Dr. Joanna Sliwa will discuss Janina's incredible journey at an event hosted by Books & Books and Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach.
Janina Spinner Mehlberg's story serves as a testament to human endurance, resilience, and the power of one individual to make a difference in the face of unimaginable adversity. Her life, filled with courage and intelligence, reminds us that even in the darkest times, hope and compassion can prevail.