Real Name: Unrevealed
Case: Lost Friends
Details: Helen Elas Conka is searching for the fifteen US army airmen whom she helped during World War II. Helen was born in 1927 in the village of Kezmarok in Czechoslovakia. When Helen's mother died, her childhood became a nightmare. She was treated horribly by her stepmother and was beaten by her and her father. Helen believes that her father blamed her for her mother's death. At a young age, she was rejected by her family, and forced to find food for herself. She worked on a nearby farm, and in exchange, she received food and clothing. Often, she escaped her abusive home and went into the woods. Many nights, she even slept in the woods.
One day, while walking in the woods, she discovered a mysterious entryway; the entryway brought Helen to a network of underground tunnels. She believes the tunnels were an escape route for a medieval castle outside of town. For Helen, the tunnels became like a second home. She often brought hay and blankets so that she could sleep there.
Meanwhile, in 1938, Hitler's armies marched into Czechoslovakia. By 1943, the medieval castle became a Nazi headquarters. Helen despised the Nazi presence; more and more, Helen retreated to her hiding place. One day in 1943, Helen heard the sounds of an airplane engine and noticed a plane on fire in the sky above her. She saw the plane crash into the forest and immediately ran to the site. The plane was an American bomber; Helen decided that she would protect the men. Helen led the men to the underground tunnels because she feared that the Germans would kill them.
Helen had placed herself in danger, but she cared more about the safety of the men, two of whom were seriously injured. She found discarded bandages and ointments in the trash of the nearby hospital. As the men began to recover, she started to put aside portions of the harvest to take with her to the men. With no money to pay for food, Helen created a clever ruse to obtain additional food: she claimed that she was helping a widow and her twelve hungry children.
For several weeks, Helen was able to keep up her charade, but her activities did not go unnoticed. In August 1943, she was betrayed by her own stepmother. In desperation, she turned to a priest at the local Catholic Church. Fortunately, the priest worked for the "underground" which were against the Nazi forces. The next day, in the privacy of the confessional, the priest showed Helen the two-way radio that the "underground" used to communicate with England. She finally was able to tell her story about the men that were in the tunnels.
Helen's decision to contact the "underground" was made just in time; within days, she was taken by the Nazis. Helen was interrogated and beaten for three days; she refused to tell them anything because she wanted herself to die in place of the fifteen men. Instead of being killed, Helen was sent to a concentration camp in Poland. Helen says that she and several other women were selected as "human guinea pigs" who were barbarically experimented on by Nazi doctors. Helen was injected by unknown drugs and medications that made her violently ill. This lasted for two years; finally, in 1945, the camp was liberated by the Allies.
In 1948, Helen married a fellow Czechoslovakian refugee named George Conka. The couple later emigrated to the United States. Sadly, as a result of the Nazi experiments, Helen was unable to have children. However, Helen believes that saving the airmen was well worth her own personal sacrifice. She now practically considers the airmen her sons; she hopes to find them or their families.
Helen has no idea if the airmen were ever rescued; however, in 1992, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel told her that there had been missions to pick up downed U.S. military personnel in Czechoslovakia. Helen hopes that the men she helped were among those that were evacuated.
Extra Notes: This case first aired on the February 17, 1995 episode.
Czechoslovakia is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Results: Solved. After Helen's case aired, she was able to get in contact with the men that she had rescued.
More recently, Helen was invited to the White House where she was recognized by then-President Bush for her heroic work during World War II.
- Courage is theme of widow's victory over Nazi horrors
- Unsolved Mysteries - Helen Elas
- Find A Grave for George Conka (Helen's husband)