Jill Pauly was born Gisella Berg on May 1, 1933 in Cologne, Germany. She lived in a small ancient town outside Cologne called Lechenich, where her family had been living since the 17th century. Her father, Joseph, was a respected cattle dealer who had many connections within the community, and her mother, Klara, tended to the home and took care of Jill and her older sister, Inge. The Bergs were a very close knit, observant Jewish family. Jill’s grandfather was the president of the local synagogue association and her uncle was the cantor.
The Nazis came to power shortly before Jill was born and as a child she was not allowed to play outside with the other children. In 1938, having been warned of the impending pogroms, the Bergs fled to Cologne. During Kristallnacht their home in Lechenich was ransacked and many of their possessions destroyed. The following week, Jill’s father fled to Holland with his brother, George, and a cousin, hoping to avoid imprisonment in Germany. However, upon their arrival in Holland they were arrested for illegal entry and detained for six months in an internment camp.
Desperate to get out of Germany, Jill’s family sought help from a relative of a cousin who had connections to a law firm in Kenya. He was able to secure visas for the Bergs and as soon as they were released, Joseph, George, and their cousin, Ernest, left for Kenya to make arrangements for the rest of the family’s emigration. In May 1939, Klara, Jill, Inge, and several other family members left for Kenya via Genoa, Italy, aboard the SS Usambara. They arrived in June and settled in a large house that Joseph had rented in Nairobi.
Kenya was then part of British East Africa and when the war broke out in September 1939 the British government arrested all adult male foreign nationals, including Jill’s father and uncles. They were classified as enemy aliens and after being held for one week they were released on the condition that they work on the farms of British citizens who were called away for war service. Shortly thereafter the family purchased a 375-acre farm in Limuru and an additional 125 acres about eight miles to the south in Muguga; from their farm they could see the distant peaks of Mt. Kenya and Mt. Kilimanjaro.
The Berg family lived in two large houses on the farm in Limuru, where they raised cattle and grew pyrethrum—a flowering plant used to make insecticide. Jill’s father rode a bike to Muguga daily, stopping halfway to fulfill his mandatory service on the farm of a British family before continuing on to manage his other property. Despite the many restrictions placed upon them, Jill and her sister were able to continue their education, attending British schools in Nairobi where they eventually learned English.
In 1947, the Bergs came to the United States, and eventually purchased a chicken farm and dairy business in Vineland, New Jersey. Jill completed her high school education and graduated from business college. In 1957, she married Kurt Pauly, a fellow survivor from Nazi Germany. The Paulys have two children.
Why I Volunteer
I work at this Museum because it is the only living, teaching tool on a national level, reaching everyone that visits it, about hate and discrimination and the effects on mankind, and, always, every single time I enter the building, in memory of all our loved ones who perished.