Gertruda was one of five children born to a poor family in the rural community of Zegrowek in western Poland. The Nowaks lived near Gertruda's grandparents. Like their parents, Sylwester and Joanna Nowak, the Nowak children were baptized in the Roman Catholic faith.
1933-39: As a young girl, I helped with chores around the house, and after school I looked after my younger brothers and sisters. I was 9 years old when the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Nazi troops reached Zegrowek that same month. Zegrowek was in an area of Poland that became formally annexed to Germany.
1940-44: When I was 12 the Germans took my father; he had been accused of working for the Polish underground. Three months later, the Germans came for his wife and children, but I managed to escape by hiding at my grandmother's house. The Nazis arrested me as well on September 30, 1943. I was sent to a slave labor camp for children in Lodz's Jewish ghetto, where I found my two brothers. Children died there every day. Sometimes the guards would bury people in the Jewish cemetery who were barely alive, together with the corpses.
Gertruda was freed in Lodz on January 19, 1945. She and her youngest brother, Edward, were the only members of her family to survive. After the war, she remained in Poland.