It was the early 1930s and little Jennie Lebl was just starting kindergarten in Miss Glavaski’s class in Nis in southeast Serbia. It was a good first year of school for Jennie, and Miss Glavaski and Jennie’s mom, Ana, became good friends. Jennie’s life and the life of her family moved on, but even after the Lebl family moved to Belgrade, Jelena Glavaski and Ana Lebl remained in touch.
By April of 1941, when Germany invaded Yugoslavia, Jennie was 14 years old. Following the invasion, her dad was captured and sent to Germany. Seven months later, just before Christmas, Ana and Jennie received orders to present themselves at the police station for deportation. Ana was willing to obey the order, but Jennie bravely took a different course. She went to the train station, managed to board a train for Nis, and when she arrived there, found her way to Miss Glavaski’s home! Her beloved teacher gladly took her in and hid her in the attic. Fourteen months passed safely before Jennie and Miss Glavaski were betrayed and arrested.
In the end, 15-year-old Jennie was sent to a camp in Germany, but incredibly survived until liberation in 1945. She was reunited with her dad in Belgrade, but her mom’s decision to obey orders had proved fatal; she had been murdered in a gas van at the Belgrade fairgrounds. And what of Miss Glavaski, the courageous kindergarten teacher? We would all hope for a happy ending, but such was not the case. Jelena Glavaski was executed in 1944 for saving the life of a little girl who had walked shyly into her classroom on a long-ago first day of school.
In honor of Miss Glavaski and loving kindergarten teachers everywhere.
Jennie viewing a photo of her teacher in the Nis museum.