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Good afternoon and welcome to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. My name is Ann Millin and I am a Historian here at the Museum. Thank you so much for being with us today. We are in our tenth year of the First Person program. Our guest today is Nesse Godin, and we shall meet her shortly.
This 2009 season of First Person is made possible though the generosity of Louis and Doris Smith Foundation, to whom we are very grateful again for sponsoring First Person.
First Person is a series of weekly conversations with survivors of the Holocaust who share with us their first hand accounts of their experiences associated with the Holocaust. Each First Person guest serves as a volunteer here at the Museum and Nesse Godin who you will hear today is one of the longest serving volunteers. She was here before the building was here.
With a few exceptions we will have a First Person guest each Wednesday through August 26. We’ll also have a First Person on Tuesdays through July. You might want to go to our website www.ushmm.org where we provided a list of the upcoming First Person guests.
Nesse will share her first person account of her experiences during the Holocaust and as a survivor, for about 40 minutes. We’ll follow that with an opportunity to ask her some questions. But, before you are introduced to her I have some announcements and also a couple of requests.
First of all if possible, please stay in your seats during the program so that we can minimize any disruption while Nesse speaks. If you have tickets for, timed tickets for the exhibition, don’t worry they will be honored. So please stay until the end of the session.
Second, if we have time for questions, and we will, near the end of the program, please make your questions as brief as possible. I’ll repeat the question so that all of you can hear it and also so that Nesse can hear it. Please however do not take pictures, especially with flash, or any kind of picture please, while Nesse is speaking or while we are doing the Q and A. She would be very happy to have her picture taken with you after the session is over. Please don’t use your cameras during the next hour.
Finally, please turn off your cell phones or pagers so that it won’t disturb proceedings. Thank you very much. Give you a moment to adjust the hardware there.
The Holocaust was the state-sponsored, systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945. Jews were the primary victims; six million were murdered. Roma and Sinti, that is the Gypsies, also people with mental and physical disabilities, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi Germany.
More than 60 years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and they may occur.
What you are about to hear is one individual’s account of the Holocaust. And we have prepared a brief slide presentation to help with her introduction.
This is a photograph of Nesse Galperin as a young girl. On the map of Europe she lived in Lithuania. Nesse was born in 1928 in Siauliai, Lithuania where her parents owned a store that sold dairy products. The city was home to a vibrant Jewish community of almost 10,000 people. And here you have a portrait of her family and the circle right here is Nesse.
After the German Army invaded Poland in 1939, Nesse’s family heard from relatives in Lodz that Jews were being treated horribly. They could not believe it. By 1941 German troops occupied Siauliai and Nesse and her family were forced to move into the ghetto. In 1944 as the Soviet Army approached, Nesse was deported to Stutthof concentration camp.
From Stutthof Nesse was transported to several camps and was sent on a death march in January, 1945. On March 10, 1945 she was liberated by Soviet troops. After spending 5 years in a displaced persons camp…this is Stutthof…After spending 5 years in a displaced persons camp in Germany Nesse immigrated to the United States. It is now my very great pleasure to introduce to you, Nesse Godin. [Applause]
Thank you Ann, very much. Welcome everybody, you hear my name is Nesse Godin and I am not a speaker or a teacher or a lecturer. What I am in a survivor of the Holocaust. And I am here with you wonderful people for one reason only, to share memories. I do so, so you would know the truth, you would understand, and you would never ever allow atrocities like the Holocaust in humanity ever again.
Many times people look at me and they will say, no wonder you survived the Holocaust. You look like a strong lady. Sometimes people even say to me that I must have been very very smart to survive the Holocaust. But, let me tell you I was not too smart and not too strong.
As you saw on the, before, I did not save this picture during the Holocaust. I came to the United States with a loving family, here. And I found those pictures. Here I am as you can see, not too strong and not too smart.
So with my two brothers, my parents, friends, many friends, many relatives I lived a normal life in Lithuania. My parents had a little business. As a child I went to Hebrew day school. I went skating, I had a good time. In 1941 when I was 13 years old I had plans for the summer but my plans did not come true. In June of 1941 the German Armies occupied Lithuania. They marched through my country in three days. My city of Siauliai through the night. What do I remember of the night of occupation? I remember my parents taking some blankets, some pillows, some food, some water and we all ran to the basement.
You know years ago when I was telling about us running to the basement people didn’t understand me. But, after September 11, our own government told us here what these terrible people were doing to us, the terrorist flying into the Pentagon, to the Trade Building. They told us find a safe place, prepare some water. Well, thank God nothing happened here after that but also in Lithuania, my town, no people were killed in the process of occupation. But, the troubles of the Jewish people began immediately.
In the first few days of occupation special units called Einstazgruppen, mobile killing units, they ran through the city, grabbing men and boys, allegedly to clean the city of war damage. I just told you there was no war damage. But, we believed them. They said outside of the city. We didn’t realize what they were going to do. They put these thousand men in the city jail and in one night they were taken out to a forest where they were forced to get undressed naked. They were forced to dig big holes in the ground. They were lined up. They were shot. They fell into the pit and they were covered with earth.
I did not say they were buried. We bury the dead with dignity. I remember the farmers coming to our house. Now why did they come to our house? The farmers that witnessed all that killing. Well you just heard my parents had a little store. They sold milk and butter and cheese. Now you wonderful people go into the supermarket with the freezers there is always milk there, and butter and cheese. In those days the farmers had to deliver the merchandise. The little store was closed so they came to our house and they were talking to my parents and doing like this. I was 13 years old. I was curious so I came over to see what the farmers have to say and I heard them say that the graves where the people were inside, the earth moved over them.
Let me tell you from my heart and my soul that this is when I, at the age of 13, learned that the Holocaust was happening to me in Siauliai, Lithuania. In the next few days all kinds of laws. We the children were not allowed to go to school anymore. You beautiful young children that are in the audience count your blessings that you are allowed to go to school.
Our parents were not allowed to have businesses. We were not allowed to walk on the sidewalk. We had to walk in the middle of the street. We all had to wear markers. This is a document as you go through the Permanent Exhibit you will see that. As you can see many markers, many victims, not just Jews. Now, why do you think they made us wear those markers? Well, for many reasons. I always run upstairs and I ask my friend Ann Millin, “Why do you think I had to wear the marker?” And the answer is that the Nazis thought of all these victims as second class citizens.
Yes, it’s true. But for Jewish people for a different reason; to identify us. How does a Jew look? We look like everybody else. We are white, we are black, we look oriental, some are blonde, some brunettes. My grandchildren look every which way, blondes, and brunettes, and redheads, with blue eyes, with brown eyes. The Nazis wanted to know exactly where we are. They made us wear those markers. Many times adults and children say to me, “Couldn’t you pretend not to be Jewish?” Oh yes I could have pretended easily. I looked like the neighbor next door, a blond little girl with blue eyes.
But, you know what the problem was, the neighbor next door. You see you wonderful people I want you to understand. It was not just the killers that killed. It was the informers and the bystanders that would put somebody in trouble or would bystand a crime. We cannot change what was. But in this beautiful institution of education, here the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. We have a new exhibit, From Memory to Action. Yes, we all have to speak up what’s going on in the world right now on behalf of Darfur, behalf other places where there is prejudice and hatred.
You know the penalty of not wearing the star was death. They would have shot me. So I wore the star with the hope that I would be free. In my town I am saying it carefully because many of you studied the Holocaust. Some of you see some docudramas, documentation, because in different countries certain things were a little different. In my town in Siauliai out own Jewish Council was allowed to stay on and represent our Jewish community of almost 10.000 people. This council had a meeting. They thought is there a way they could save us? They had a wonderful idea. They thought we lived so nicely with the Christian community in Siauliai, Lithuania, let’s go to the priests. The priests were marvelous people. Beg them to save us. Not to take us into their homes. You cannot take in 10,000 people, but to stand in the churches and say, “Thou shall not kill.”
But when our council came to meet the priests, you know what they said, they are afraid to get involved. Do we get involved or do we turn away from another human being. As you go through our Permanent Exhibit, you will see a statement by Pastor Niemoller. He made the statement after the War. He said that when they came for the Jews he didn’t speak up, he wasn’t a Jew. And he goes on and he goes on because he wasn’t any of those people so he didn’t speak up. But when they came for him there was no one left to speak up. A lesson to learn we have to speak up when we see a wrong.
What did our council do when they were turned away by the priests? They decided to try and bribe the SS and the Gestapo and convince them that the Jews of Siauliai can be useful for slave labor. We had many shoe and leather factories they are still in existence in Siauliai. We’ll make boots for the Army and they agreed. Now we were not allowed to stay in our homes anymore.
A ghetto was formed. Now when I come to a school in the inner city the kids when I ask them, “What is a ghetto?” They tell me, “Right here in the inner city, the poor neighborhood.” In those days a ghetto was a jail. In my town two sections, four square blocks each, surrounded with barbed wire, a gate to go in and go out. Now who guarded it? The police, the police guarded the ghetto, the Lithuanian police. The same policemen as my mother taught me to respect and go for help in case I get lost as a child. Yes, she used to say, “Nesale don’t worry if you get lost you don’t know how to go home go over to the policeman with the pretty hat he’ll bring you home.”
That same policeman I had to be afraid of. Think about it. In order to go into the ghetto you needed a certificate. You couldn’t take your baggage and move in. You needed a document. How did you get that document? SS, Gestapo, and Lithuanians that showed where the Jews lived. How would they know? We didn’t have a Jewish neighborhood. We looked like everybody else in Lithuania. The neighbors showed them where the Jews lived. Why did they do that? Maybe they would have skipped a house or two.
They came to my house. They looked around the bedrooms, the living room; they were taking things that they wanted, some precious things, some other things. A young lady was sitting in the kitchen and writing those certificates. A young Lithuanian girl, she was 17 years old. These mean terrible people told her not to write a certificate for me because I am not fit for slave labor.
As they were in those rooms taking the precious things, my mama gave the young girl a little money and she asked her to leave that extra certificate. They girl took the money, she put it in her pocket, and she didn’t say a word. And as this committee left the house she walked out with them. The minute they walked out my parents started to count those pieces of paper, those documents. There were two for my brothers, two for my parents, and one blank certificate. They girl was very smart. She thought in case they catch her she’ll say it just got stuck. So my parents could fill in my name and yes my friends because of that decision that this young girl made, I am alive today.
You know many times young people say, “What difference will I make?” Every one of us can make a difference. Yes, I repeat, that’s how I got into the ghetto. The same way as my parents got me into the ghetto, some families succeeded to bring in children, elderly and sick into the ghetto. Now many of you may wonder. I just said the ghetto was just for working people. Why would anybody want to go into a jail? Let me tell you what happened to the people 3,500 of them that did not get that certificate; some healthy, some strong, no more place in this small area.
They were put into the city synagogues. I looked up the other day on the website I saw in my town there were 15 synagogues, I didn’t even know it. In one night they were taken out to a forest called Zagare where they were killed in mass graves. By the time they ghetto was closed half of our Jewish population was killed already.
What do I remember the life in the ghetto when I was 13 and 14? I remember hunger and I remember fear. Fear for my life, these evil Nazis running through the ghetto grabbing people to be killed. We the children hiding in places sometimes they found us sometimes they didn’t. And hunger, if anybody would have given me one extra bite of bread how grateful I would have been. Can we change that? No we cannot change what was then. But, we can change what it is right now. Every day I open the paper, I look at documents, I see hungry children, the children of Darfur. Please, you can make a difference. Our Committee on Conscience of the Museum has a project. Please look us up and make sure that there is no hungry child in this world that begs for bread like I did and nobody gave and nobody listened.
You know I could stand here and talk to you for hours and hours, but I chose to share with you one single day of the ghetto of Siauliai, Lithuania. November 5, 1943 I was already 15 and ½ years old. I had already a job outside of the ghetto. Every morning to line up and go to work. Why was it so good to go to work outside? Well you were not inside when they were grabbing people to be killed. But, when you worked outside you worked with many Christian people, Lithuanian people, and they brought you something to eat; an apple, a half a sandwich. Maybe that saved my life.
On that particular day of November 5, 1943 when I came to the gate to go out to work I saw trucks outside of the ghetto. We were told we are not allowed to go to work that day. I remember running back to the little room that I shared with 9 people, 2 uncles, 2 aunts, my parents, my brothers, myself…I remember Mama putting layers of clothing on me, bread in my pocket, the words that she said I’ll never forget. Mama said, “My child, the trucks are here.” Trucks mean deportation. Deportation means separation of families. It was such a chaos in the ghetto.
Some people said we should hide in the hiding places. See everybody had a hiding place in the little room beneath the bed, a double wall, up in the attic. Other people said no use hiding; the Nazis dynamite the area after they take out the people. But a little bit later orders changed. We were told a mistake was made. We should go to work. So I left the ghetto that morning. All day long we wondered, what were those trucks doing there. Were they delivering food or taking someone out? That evening as we were coming back from work as we were coming closer to the ghetto we heard cries. Such cries I hope no human being will hear. What happened that single day of November 5, 1943 in the ghetto of Siauliai, Lithuania, SS, Gestapo, and Ukrainians that joined the evil cause. You know now I see them on the History Channel. Old men saying, “Everybody was doing it. Well so we did it. We had to obey orders. We had to do this, that…”
My dear wonderful people especially you young people. Don’t do what everybody is doing. Check out before. Make sure you are not in trouble, that you don’t join an organization that is evil, killing others, abusing others. Yes now they are sorry. As a matter of fact I heard today in the news that Mr. Demjanjuk was shipped off to Germany. He had an excuse, he’s 89 years old. My father didn’t live to be 89. He was 47 when he was taken that day from the ghetto of Siauliai, Lithuania.
I didn’t ask a question about thousands of people, millions of people. I asked a question about one human being, my dad. He was a kind man. He was a good man. Why was he killed? He was killed because the world was silent while people were being murdered. The life in the ghetto after the children’s selection was terrible. No laughter of children, no disturbance, no children, no future. In 1944 the Germany Armies were retreating from our area. They did not leave us behind. One day they lined us up, they told us to take along our precious things, we are going to another place to work. So we packed, thinking that’s it we are going somewhere. We took along albums, diaries; mama took some jewelry, some money, whatever.
We traveled in those famous boxcars. We lost track of time. I don’t even know how many days. Somebody told me 4 or 5 days. We arrived in a concentration camp called Stutthof. You saw that map on the screen. This is compiled by the liberating forces, by the Allied forces; the French, the English, the Americans, and the Russians.
In 1985 was a conference and they put out a book, Liberation. I carried that because it is not necessary to read. You can see dots, lots of dots. If you go up to the Permanent Exhibit, you go through the train. On your left hand side there is a map that shows you the names. Large dots, little dots, large dot meant it had gas chambers and crematories. Stutthof [was] a large dot. All the Jews from the Baltic countries, overflow of Auschwitz were brought to Stutthof. As soon as we arrived there we were ordered to put away our belongings. We’ll come back for it. We never saw it again.
Next, one Nazi in a black uniform [said] “to the right, to the left.” My mama sent one way, my brother another way my uncle another way. There I was, 16 years old, a blond little girl standing there not even knowing where I was, why I was there and all of a sudden a hand reached out to me and pulled me over. A Jewish lady said to me, “Little girl come with us. This is the good line.” What did I know, good line, bad line. Those women took care of me from that day on.
My group of women were lined up. We had to go in to take a shower so while we were undressing the Nazis hitting us, beating us up, yelling, screaming. I remember running from one end of the room to the other. [It was} traumatic, 16 years old, naked in front of these horrible people. Then two doors opened up. It said “shower room.” So we walked in, we took a shower, we walked out not even realizing how lucky we were.
In 1998 I went back to all those places. What did I find out in all the places of a gas chamber it said shower room. The people were going in to be killed. They thought they were going to a shower. They needed people for labor. They put us in the real shower. Outside they checked all the cavities of the body to make sure we are not smuggling in any gold or diamonds or whatever. Outside we stood naked for hours and hours. Then we were given a dress, a pair of underpants, and a pair of shoes.
Now everything was taken from me, my family, [and] my belongings. I had one more precious thing left. You all have it. You take it for granted; a name. My name was Nesse Galperin, now my name Godin because my husband’s name, and we were given the dress, the underpants, and a number instead of a name. No more name. Yes, in Stutthof and in other camps was painted on your clothing. If you see a survivor with a tattoo on their arm you will know they survived Auschwitz. Did not make any difference what camp you were in. You were tortured, abused, and killed. Every morning they lined you up [for] roll call. You stood there face down. You were not allowed to look at a Nazi’s face. They looked you over. If you were too young, too old, too sick looking, they took you away never to be seen again.
One day, as I stood there, a Jewish woman tapped me on the side and whispered, “Little girl they are going to kill you here.” You see because of malnutrition in the ghetto I never developed. I was so skinny and so short and I looked at the woman and I say, “You are scaring me.’ She said, “No I am giving you advice. If you could get out to a labor camp, maybe you will survive. Here they’ll kill you for sure.” She told me what to look for [and] how to act.
One day I saw women being lined up. They were given a blanket and a dish for food. So I snuck in the middle of the roll like the woman told me to do. I stood on my tip toes to look taller. I pinched my cheeks to look healthier and I succeeded to leave the concentration camp with 5,000 women.
We were divided 1,000 in a camp. Now I was in 4 of those, but due to time just tell you a little bit about the labor camp. The house [was] a canvas tent. The bed [was] a bundle of straw. One dress, one pair of underpants, one pair of shoes, a blanket, and a dish for food, that’s all I had. What was the food? A tiny little piece of bread and brown water, they called it coffee.
In the evening they gave you soup. You couldn’t even find a potato peel in it. The labor was so hard. We had to dig cone shaped holes in the ground for enemy tanks to fall in. They didn’t have to kill us there. We started to die. Die of starvation, die of diseases, the most horrible year of my life. January of 1945, the Germany Armies were retreating. But they did not leave us behind. They lined us up that morning. They told us to take our blanket, our dish for food, we are leaving the camp.
We thought a bus will come, a horse and buggy to take us to another camp. But no, we started by foot, marching through the towns and villages and roads of Poland and Germany, That is called the death march. Why is it called the death march? We gave it that name. As we were walking through the towns and everywhere we saw many, many human beings face down with a bullet in the back or just left to die.
We marched that way until the middle of February, 1945 where we set up camp in a barn outside of a little town in those days it was called Chinow, now called Chynowie, it’s Poland now. Southwestern part of the Baltic Sea. I remember the barn. It was crowded. I really don’t know how many of us were left dead on the road. Somebody said that we were still maybe 600, 700 there. The guards ordered 50 women outside, made them go outside, gave them shovels, ordered them to dig two long trenches. We thought they are going to line us up and shoot us like they always did. But, they had different plans for us. On one hole they put some stick on. It served as a bathroom. Human beings need a bathroom. So we knew that we will be staying there for awhile. The other hole in the ground would be a grave.
Every morning the little bit healthier women had to drag out the dead. Women died; typhoid, dysentery, hunger, undressed them naked because the clothing you can recycle and the bodies…wasn’t even bodies anymore, just skeletons covered with skin, were dumped into the hole.
You know, many times the visitors stop at the desk, at the Membership Desk, where we have a survivor every single day there, and they ask us questions. Young people always say, “Why were they all naked?” You see the Nazis valued more the clothing than the human beings. You know, through the Holocaust I was a little girl that prayed to the Almighty. I used to talk to God. I didn’t even know good prayers. I used to say, “Dear God let me live through the day, maybe I‘ll be free.” At night I used to say, “Dear God let me sleep through the night maybe I’ll be free.” But it came a time I must tell you the truth when I came from the outside and I saw this mountain of skeletons, all my friends, all my relatives on top of it. I used to sit in the straw in the barn and cry and talk to God and beg to die. I said, “Please God let me die I don’t want to live anymore.”
The women around me that were so hungry and so sick said to me, “Little girl what are you talking about? Who wants you dead? Your enemy Hitler will be happy. They wont need a bullet to shoot you. You have to live. But if you live, don’t let us be forgotten. Teach the world what hatred, and indifference, and prejudice can do.”
On March 10, 1945 our place was found by the Russian Army. You see, we called these people liberators but no country sent somebody to liberate us. They found us in those places. Yes, we were liberated. Out of the thousand women, we were there 200. 200 with physical wounds and mental wounds. You can all see I carry a scar on my face, many more scars on my back. Those wounds healed a long time ago, but the mental wounds we the survivors will carry to our graves. 6 million Jewish people, millions of others were killed in the Holocaust. Why, why?
Now here we are together in the most wonderful institution of education, the United States Memorial Museum, Holocaust Memorial Museum. A place that will teach the world even after we are gone what happens if we don’t respect each other, we don’t honor each other, and today I hope as you leave these doors you will look at the world around you. You won’t see a race, you won’t see a religion, you’ll see a human being. May God bless you, may God Bless America. Thank you. [Applause]
Nesse will be happy to take questions. I’ll repeat them to make sure that everyone can hear them. Back there I think we have one. I thought I saw a hand. Yes. How were you treated by the Red Army?
You see we were treated very well. You have to understand that they were our Allies. When you young people grew up and even your parents it was a different story. Politics change, we think of the Red Army as the Communists, that they were different but during Second World War they were very kind and very compassionate.
Yes. Did you ever meet up with anyone you knew before the War?
Yes, I was very lucky. I found my mother and one of my brothers. We were all in separate places and we were lucky to be reunited. From my class of 40 kids, 5 survived the Holocaust. Some live in the United States, some are in Israel.
White shirt back there. Was there anyone in your experience who was about to be killed but then was saved?
Well I’ll tell you. My mother used to tell the stories about her experience. So she…a few times she was in a different camp. She was in her 40s and also labor camp and they used to pick people to be killed, to be taken back to the concentration camp. She always used to tell she never told my children about how they killed…she always used to tell how she was saved.
Yes, right here. Was there a person or some kind of saying that helped you and encouraged you during the Holocaust?
Well I’ll be very sincere with you. I survived the Holocaust by the grace of the Lord above. I am a believer but whatever name you call him. But also by Jewish women. When I was crying of hunger they shared a bite of bread with me. When I was shivering of cold they wrapped my body in straw to keep warm. When I was beaten up severely on the death march and I lay there and I didn’t want to get up, that a carry the scar on my face, they pulled my up and they told me I have to live, I have to walk. Yes they gave me hope but they also gave me the commandment to remember them but most of all I repeat to teach you, especially young people, to be kinder, more loving, more better human beings.
Yes. After the Holocaust are you still proud of being a Jew?
My dear friend, why wouldn’t I be proud to be a Jew? I didn’t kill anybody. I would not be proud to be a Nazi. I tell you the truth and I want to tell you all. You know we have many wonderful German young people that come to our Museum and they help here and they organize in Germany even groups. They are embarrassed of their parents, what they did. I was born in a Jewish family, I live as a Jew, and I will die as a Jew.
Yes, right here. Great question. Is it difficult for you to do these programs, difficult to talk about your memories?
It is very, very difficult. You see, you don’t sleep the night before. You are anxious. You hope that you will do a good job, you represent the Museum especially. Actually when you go home I promise you I am not going to sleep the next night because I’ll dream about it. But, I made a commitment to those that were killed but most of all to you beautiful young people to make you understand how important it is to love another human being and respect. You know. Think about it.
I should say too that this is not the only program that Nesse does. She goes out to our military services academies; West Point, Annapolis, and speaks to the students there. Every single graduate of our service academies hears her and profits from what you have heard today. There was another question down here, yes. What things have helped you deal with the trauma of your experience?
Well you see we live now in times where you have counselors, psychologists, but when we came out from the camps there was no such thing. We just talked to each other about our experience, you know. I’ll never forget, you know, when we lived on Sheridan Street where I lived in Washington D.C. and we a few couples, the Malniks, the Gendelmans, the Katzs, five couples we used to see and we used to have…my mother used to prepare all kinds of food and we used to talk to each other. I hope I don’t embarrass you Ed. My son is here. I remember not so long ago somebody interviewed him, how it was to grow up as a little kid with survivors. I saw in the paper that he used to stand on top of the stairs and listen to us what we were talking about. Then he used to be afraid that the Nazis are coming for him. Sure, that was our counseling, just among ourselves.
Back there. What was your perception of the world before the War and then after the War?
You see, I would be lying to you if I would tell you, oh I knew politics, I knew…I was a kid. I was 12 years old when the Soviets took over Lithuania. So here I was in a Hebrew day school, then I wasn’t allowed to study Hebrew. I had to be in another school. Then the Nazis took over. So you see as a hindsight I can tell you all kinds of stories but I know now that it was terrible and we have to make it better. It is you, and you, and you, can make it better, you can change. I know, I know my beautiful friends here that I love dearly, Ross and Jake you are going to make it a better world.
Right here. Did you meet any Jehovah’s Witnesses in the camps and what was your experience of how they handled things?
Well I’ll tell you I did not meet Jehovah’s Witnesses until I started to work with the Museum and raise money and do all that. As you heard I have done a lot of work for the Museum before even it opened up. We were separated. We were even separated, Jewish people, the men from the women where I was. In some places people worked together but I did not have that experience.
Yes, right here. Were there any guards who showed any kindness toward the prisoners?
Well let me tell you I did not experience it. I cannot tell you maybe somewhere, something but where I was, no.
Oh my so many questions. Way in the back there, I’ll take you then I’ll come back for you. Okay. In the guard’s eyes were there any regrets about what they were doing?
No, they had no regrets. They were as mean as they could be. Like even you see a docudrama or documentation that’s exactly how they were. They were just carried away with this terrible idea to kill the whole world. You know as I was standing there I looked in the room and I was thinking to myself if Hitler would have won the War how many of us in this room would be alive?
Yes. Good question. Based on your experience with the Holocaust what do you think is the best response to Darfur.
Well I’ll tell you when we…what year was it we had the things on the stairs there?
Was about 2 years ago.
More than 2 years ago, more.
More. Anyway, I was approached by the Committee on Conscience if I would speak up on the stairs as you walk in on behalf of Darfur and I knew already some things that children are being killed, parents are being…the houses burned. So naturally I needed a little more information and I thought to myself now why would they ask me? But then as I thought about it I knew that I have to speak up because I complained that nobody spoke up and since then we the survivors are very active and teaching young people like yourself. When you go home look at your computer; Committee of Conscience of the Museum they’ll tell you what you can do. We can change it, we can speak up, we can influence our own government to do more.
There are groups in high schools, middle schools, and universities all across the country to check out the website.
I want to share something with you. I was in a middle school in Virginia, in Alexandria not so long ago and I got a letter from the teacher that they children brought 400 pairs of shoes to donate for the children in Darfur, after what they heard what I said. You know, look in your closets. Those children don’t have nothing. You know, clothes, a change of clothes. Whatever you can give will make a difference.
Let’s see right here in the middle. Yes. Did anyone in your camp ever try to revolt in some camps they did?
Well I want to tell you in my camp we were women and we didn’t. But in the ghettos there were already organized partisans. Not so long ago there was a movie playing, you know what was it called?
Defiance. And my husband is from Vilna and he experienced that experience with the partisans and this. But you see the Nazis were so evil. They were so engrossed in killing that they always made sure that people that wanted to fight back couldn’t even. But, we are very proud of the uprising in Warsaw ghetto. Our young kids; 14, 15, 16 years old with home-made ammunition held the Nazis 40 days and they could finally…naturally the Nazis won. But, all over there were, you know all kinds of resistance. Even people, you know, didn’t do the right job or I understand I know people that worked in ammunition factories and instead of putting a lot of powder they put some sand in. This is documented. This is not just stories I tell you. I am very careful not to say what I don’t know myself. Yes, there were many resistance.
Oh let’s see. Right there. When did you find out that you were free and how did it feel?
Okay, I’ll tell you. The thing is the women that had to carry out the bodies and came into the barn and said they did not see the guards. So we didn’t know any news. We didn’t know what was going on. So somebody else said “The guards must be hiding in back of the barn and if we start walking at the village they’ll kill us.” So we sat all day long, not realizing that the guards ran away. They knew that the Russians are coming. At night we heard boots marching and all of a sudden Russian language. Okay, the women they were kissing their hands, their feet. They were so…and I started to cry and I cried and I cried and I cried. The women said to me, “Little girl we are free why are you crying?” I said “But now I am alive, where do I go?”
Back…yes. Say that gain a little louder. What would you, advice would you give someone who is fighting religious discrimination? Facing religious discrimination.
Well, I’ll tell you. There is all kinds of committees and government agencies that you can go to. There is a big organization called ADL
Anti-Defamation League that is involved in that. If you have some problems call them, they will look into it if it’s legitimate they will make sure it is stopped because a hate crime is a hate crime now.
Yes. When you were in the camps did you lose faith in God or in humanity?
I never lost faith in God. I lost faith in humanity. I couldn’t understand how a human being can go to church in the morning and in the evening go and beat me up or kill some people. You see we always like to blame God. Sometime I drop a pot or a glass I say, “Oh God.” It’s not God’s fault when I am clumsy, you know, it is our fault that we don’t stop it. It’s our fault that we don’t teach our children to be better human beings. Yes, that’s the most important thing, you know is for us to love each other and respect each other.
These have been fantastic questions and we have come to the end of our time. Nesse, is there anything you want to say in closing?
Well in closing the most important thing to the mostly the young people, it’s very difficult to change the mind of the older people, but you young people you are going to be the leaders of our country, the Senators, the Representatives, maybe President. Make sure that this country of ours, the best country in the world, the United States of America, should be an example for the world. This place and everywhere in the world, every human being, regardless how they pray, regardless how they look should be respected and honored. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you.