Dana Szeflan Bell

In the Blink of an Eye

Dana Szeflan Bell’s early years were filled with love and abundance, until it all disappeared.

Dana Szeflan was born in Warsaw, Poland, on May 13, 1938, into a cultured and distinguished family. But when the war started a year later, her life as she knew it came to an end. In search for a safe place to live, the family left Warsaw, only to witness bombs falling, houses in flames, and people dying all around.

Arriving in Russian-occupied Bialystok, the Szeflans were deemed traitors and shipped to a labour camp when Dana’s father refused to become a Russian citizen. In the camp, people were infested with lice, deathly ill, depressed, and starving.

After being released 18 months later, the family trekked to Asia, a horrific voyage with innumerable obstacles. At one point, when Dana’s parents were struck with typhoid and taken away, they left Dana, 4, alone and terrified. Ending up in a Russian Orthodox orphanage, Dana had her lice-infested head shaved and a wooden cross placed around her neck. She slept on wooden boards, crying every night, thinking that she would never see her parents again.

One day, Dana was looking toward the gate of the orphanage when she saw an eye peeking through. Dana’s mother had returned for her. Dana began to scream, “Mama, Mama!” and recounts this moment as “the happiest of my life.” When the war ended, Dana and her parents returned to Poland to learn that their entire family of 400 had been murdered by the Germans.

Life began anew in a displaced persons camp with the birth of Dana’s sister, Ruthy. In 1948, Dana, 10, and her family immigrated to Montreal, Canada. Provided with $10, the family began to rebuild their lives. Dana would go on to have two children and five grandchildren, model, design her own clothing line, and write a book. Dana says, “Life is beautiful. If I wouldn’t be optimistic and appreciate my survival, then saving my life would have been a waste.”