October 19, 2008
By Nesse Godin
My name is Nesse Godin and I am a survivor of the Holocaust.
I grew up in Shauliai, Lithuania, where I had a normal childhood. I was surrounded by a loving family and friends. All that changed when Nazi Germany occupied Lithuania.
Like all the Jewish people of my town, I was forced into a ghetto where I witnessed selections. Many people, young and old, were taken to be killed.
From the ghetto I was deported to the Stutthof concentration camp. There I was separated from my family. Everything I had was taken from me. There my name, Nesa Galperin, became a number: 54015.
Every morning we had to line up and the guards would look us over. People who looked too old, too young, or sick were taken to be killed.
From the concentration camp I was sent to labor camps. Somehow I survived four of them, living in a tent, sleeping on a bundle of straw, starved and beaten up.
When the German army was being defeated by the Allied forces, we were taken out of the last labor camp, called Malken. We were lined up in the morning and were told that we were going to another camp, but this was not true. The truth was that the Nazis were hoping to get us to a concentration camp to be killed. There were no trains or trucks to transport us. We started marching by foot.
We started what is called now a death march. We the prisoners named it so. We were marching day after day, week after week, in the freezing weather. No coat, no hat or gloves, just the blanket wrapped around the little dress. Very small amounts of food every few days.
We saw many prisoners who just could not walk anymore and fell and died or were shot by the guards. After marching about five or six weeks, we stopped near a small town called Chinow. We were put in a barn. Hunger and disease took their toll.
We were freed when the Soviet army took over the area.
As you can see, I lived and survived the most horrible time in the history of humanity, the Holocaust. I witnessed how human beings—the Nazis—can turn into beasts, killing innocent men women and children.
During those dark days I also experienced kindness and compassion by Jewish women who shared a bite of bread with me when I cried of hunger, wrapped my body in straw when I was shivering from the cold, picked me up from the ground when I was beaten severely. These Jewish women, like I, were treated by the Nazi guards like worthless insects that you can step on and kill.
These Jewish women who helped me are my guardian angels. They always gave me hope. They also made me promise that I would remember them and, most of all, what the Nazi murderers and their collaborators did to humanity.
When I was free I was 17 years old. I had a hard time dealing with those hard years under Nazi occupation, years of abuse. Starved, orphaned, and homeless. I was very lucky to find my mother and reunite with her. She was in many other camps and survived. She was 46. She was sure that they had killed me because I was so young and frail and in turn I assumed that they had killed her because she was older.
I was a very angry young girl. I hated the Nazis and their helpers, I was angry about what they did to the Jewish people, my family, and me.
When Mama and I got reunited and she saw how angry and full of hate I was and not even enjoying my freedom, she used to have long talks with me. She said that after all the horrible times we lived in it is no wonder that we were angry.
Mother said hate would destroy my life and would not accomplish anything. She said, “My child, you have the right to be angry after what the Nazi murderers did to you.”
She said that my future was in my hands. It was my choice. I could hate and destroy my life, or I could choose to use my experience and teach the world what hatred can do.
Mother reminded me not to forget the women who helped me survive and the promise I made to them to teach the world what the Nazis did to humanity.
I was very lucky to have my mother, Sara Galperin, my mentor. I took her advice. I made a choice to enjoy life but not to forget the promise I made during those horrible years of the Holocaust. I share my memories with schoolchildren and adults of all races and religions with the hope that they will not allow hatred and prejudice in humanity ever again.
Yes, I use my past to make sure that no child like I was has to suffer ever again in the future.
I feel very privileged to be a volunteer for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which I call the best institution of education for humanity. We tell the history of the Holocaust but, most of all, the Museum teaches our visitors, the young and old, the military and civilians, visitors from every continent, how to make it a better world.
©2008, Nesse Godin. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.