Rosalyn Kliot was born in April of 1945 in Lodz, Poland, after her parents’ courageous escape from the Klooga concentration camp in Estonia.
Rosalyn’s parents were both originally from Vilna, a city that has been claimed by both Poland and Lithuania throughout history. Rosalyn’s parents grew up when Vilna was part of Poland. Rosalyn’s father, Leon, and her mother, Vera, were both involved in Jewish sports and community groups in Vilna. When Leon was a young adult, he owned his own hardware business, was married, and had a young child.
Vilna became part of Lithuania in October 1939. In June 1941, the Nazis invaded Lithuania and took control of Vilna, and soon both of Rosalyn’s parents were forcibly removed from their homes and relocated to a ghetto. Leon was part of the resistance movement in the ghetto, sneaking in and out to find food for his family, an extremely dangerous risk. Life inside the ghetto was miserable and dangerous. Many people died and were murdered, including Leon’s wife and child.
In fall of 1943, both of Rosalyn’s parents and several of their family members were deported from the Vilna ghetto to do forced labor at the Klooga concentration camp near the village of Klooga, Estonia. Leon was one of 75 men on his transport who immediately began planning an escape. Vera and Leon met at the camp and fell in love. After much organizing, in the dead of night in September 1944, Vera, Leon, and 18 other prisoners took a huge risk and successfully escaped from the camp. Vera was the only woman to escape.
It was not long before Nazi guards found out about the prisoners’ escape, and began chasing Vera and Leon through the Estonian countryside with weapons and dogs. When Vera and Leon heard the Nazis quickly catching up to them, they spotted a nearby barn and ran to it, hiding in a huge pile of hay. The Nazis entered the barn and searched for what seemed like hours, stabbing the hay with their bayonets. When the couple heard planes overhead, they knew Soviet troops were on their way to fight the Nazis. The Nazis retreated from the barn, and Vera and Leon survived.
The pair traveled across Europe by foot and train back to Vilna, only to find that most of their family members had been murdered. In search of a safe home, they set their eyes on the United States. By that time, the U.S., the U.K., and the Soviet Union had agreed to divide Germany into several zones, and the family headed to the American sector of Germany. They had to stop in Lodz, Poland on their way, because Vera was pregnant with Rosalyn and it was time to give birth. Rosalyn was born in Lodz on April 2nd, 1945. The family continued on to Heidenheim, Germany, where Leon worked for two years for the United Nations Relief Organization helping fellow displaced persons and refugees while the family saved up for their own emigration. In 1947, the family sailed from Bremerhaven, Germany to Boston Harbor. They settled in Skokie, Illinois, in a community of people who shared similar survival experiences.
In her adulthood, Rosalyn owned her own business in Southern California and later moved to Oregon, where she worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and then a manager in her company. She traveled the West Coast as a Forensic Vocational Expert Witness at Supplemental Security Income hearings while she was the owner of her own consulting business. She has been a guest lecturer at Portland State and Southern Oregon universities, a practicing artist, and has had writing published in various journals and newspapers. Today Rosalyn focuses on her art full time, as both an artist and a member of the public art and selection committee for the City of Lake Oswego. She has been telling her family’s story of Holocaust survival for over 25 years.