Born March 28, 1928, in Siauliai, Lithuania
Nesse Galperin was born on March 28, 1928, into an observant Jewish family in Siauliai, Lithuania. Her mother, Sara, owned a dairy store and her father, Pinchas, worked at a shoe factory. They spoke often to Nesse and her brothers, Jecheskel and Menashe, about the importance of community and caring for others. Siauliai was home to a Jewish community of more than 10,000 members, who supported cultural and social organizations and over a dozen synagogues.
The Nazis Invade
On June 26, 1941, Nazi Germany occupied Siauliai and almost immediately put into effect antisemitic laws, including requiring all members of the Jewish community to wear a yellow Star of David. Jewish children were prohibited from attending school, and Jewish businesses were confiscated. In the weeks that followed, Einsatzgruppen (mobile killing units) and Lithuanian police and military officials rounded up 1,000 Jewish men and boys under the pretense of cleaning up the damage done to the city by the occupation. Instead, they took the Jewish men and boys to the nearby Kuziai Forest, where they forced them to dig large pits before telling them to take off their clothes. They then shot the men and boys and buried their bodies in the pits.
In August 1941, Nesse and her family were forced to move into the Siauliai ghetto. On November 5, 1943, approximately 1,700 people—including Nesse’s father, Pinchas, and 1,000 children--were deported to Auschwitz and killed in the gas chambers. Nesse, her mother, and her brothers managed to avoid the selection because they were at work outside the ghetto. In 1944, the few Jews remaining in the Siauliai ghetto were deported to the Stutthof concentration camp. Nesse became prisoner number 54015 and was separated from her mother and brother Jecheskel. Her other brother, Menashe, evaded deportation with the help of a gentile friend.
Nesse Survives Four Labor Camps and a Death March
In the camp, Jewish women looked after Nesse, protecting her and advising her on how to survive. She was deported to four other slave labor camps and then, in January 1945, she was sent on a death march in a group of 1,000 female prisoners. When the Soviet army liberated the group on March 10, 1945, only 200 women, including Nesse, were still alive.
Nesse spent six weeks recuperating in a makeshift hospital in Chinow (Chynowie), Poland, and was then assigned a foster mother to help her. They traveled to Lodz, Poland, where Nesse met a woman from Siauliai who told her that her mother, Sara, was somewhere on the border between Germany and Poland. Nesse left the care of her foster mother to search for her own mother. By the time she reached the border, Sara—having learned that Nesse was alive—had left to find her in Lodz.
After the War
After weeks of traveling and searching, Nesse and her mother were reunited. In order to begin rebuilding their lives, Sara decided that either she or Nesse would need to marry. Nesse was 17 when Sara asked Yankel Godin, a survivor from Poland, to marry her daughter and join their family. Nesse and Yankel were married shortly after. The Galperin/Godins relocated to the Feldafing displaced persons camp in Bavaria, where they were reunited with Jecheskel. Many years later, in 1970, Menashe immigrated to Israel.
In 1950, the Galperin/Godins immigrated to the United States and settled in Washington, DC. Nesse and Jack (Yankel) have three children, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren. In honor of the women who saved her life, Nesse is a passionate advocate for Holocaust education and awareness and has served as a volunteer at the Museum since before it opened in 1993.
I was a prisoner from the age of 13 to 17. I lived through a ghetto, concentration camp, four labor camps, and a death march. I was not strong, I was not smart, I was a little girl. I think that I survived the Holocaust by the grace of the Lord above and by the kindness of Jewish women that gave me a bite of bread, wrapped my body in straw to keep me warm, held me up when I was hurt by the guards, gave me hope, but also asked me to promise them that if I survived I would not let them be forgotten. Remember and tell the world what hatred can do. I feel that the Museum is fulfilling my promise that I made to those women that did not survive. I am proud to be a devoted volunteer in our most wonderful institution of education as I call our Museum.
First Person series Conversation with a Holocaust survivor [2005 season].
Interview Describes the formation of the Siauliai ghetto [1989 interview].