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I Never Knew Their Names

By Nesse Godin

I am a Holocaust survivor. I lived through a ghetto, a concentration camp, several labor camps, and a death march. When I share memories of those four years, people from the audience ask questions.

Some people say that I must have been strong to survive, some say I must have been wise to survive. Some ask what I would have done differently in my life.

Unfortunately my life in my preteen and teen years was controlled by others—the Nazis. Surviving through the darkest days in the history of humanity, the Holocaust, was not due to my strength or wisdom. It was by the grace of the Lord above and by the kindness of Jewish women, the women who helped me.

I never knew their names.

When I was given a ration of bread that was just one small slice, I tried to save a small piece of it for the next day. I tore off a piece of my blanket and wrapped the small bite of bread in it and put it in the straw that I slept on. The next morning my bread was gone. I sat in the straw and cried. A Jewish woman asked me why I was crying and when I told her about the bread that I lost, she suggested that there were many hungry people and I should hide the bread in my bosom. My problem was that because of the starvation I never developed and had no bosom to hide it in.The lady offered to hide my bread in her bosom. This lady, whose name I did not know, helped me survive.

I never knew her name.

When I was shivering from the cold, we had no coats, no hats, no stockings, just a dress, a pair of underwear, a pair of shoes, and a blanket. A Jewish woman who shivered from the cold offered to wrap my body in straw to keep me warm. This woman helped me survive.

I never knew her name.

On the death march when I was beaten up by a Nazi soldier and fell to the ground, Jewish women picked me up and helped me walk. They did not leave me behind to die. If you stayed on the ground and could not walk, they shot you.

Yes, these women helped me survive.

I never knew their names.

At the end of the death march, when we were in a barn, most of us sick and starved, I prayed to die but the Jewish women around me encouraged me not to give up, to have hope.

These women helped me to survive.

I never knew their names.

We were prisoners without names, just numbers.

Yes, it was these Jewish women who gave me a bite of bread, wrapped my body in straw, picked me up when I was on the ground, and gave me hope when I was ready to give up.

These Jewish women also made me promise that I would remember them and that I would teach the world what hatred, prejudice, and indifference can do to humanity.

I am in the autumn of my life dedicated to this promise, sharing memories so others will not have to suffer as I did.

I fulfill this promise to these Jewish women. I remember them with prayers. I speak about them. My only regret is that I do not know their names.

These angels, these Jewish women, saved me. I do not even know where they were from or to whose family they belonged.

When I say Kaddish, the prayer for the dead, I just say, “These Jewish women that helped me survive.” 

I wish that every face of these women that is etched in my memory would have a name.

Hamakom yenachem etchem.

May you, my angels, rest in peace.

©2005, 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.