“I’ve never really wanted to talk about this, but I guess this day has come. I was sitting in a cafe the day after the tornado hit Hamburg. A young journalist asked me if I had been alive during World War II. The answer is yes. And here is my story.”
September 21, 1962
I’ve never really wanted to talk about this, but I guess this day has come. I was sitting in a cafe the day after the tornado hit Hamburg. A young journalist asked me if I had been alive during World War II.
The answer is yes. And here is my story.
September 21, 1942
As every person in my synagogue was gathered in a small street, I knew what was going on. Though my sister, who was six at the time, did not have a clue. My parents told her we were going on a long vacation, though what they couldn’t say was that we were on a journey to our deaths. The fear rose in every person as people were being loaded into the cattle cars. My parents, crying, my sister and I, not knowing what would happen next.
I could hear a loud boom. I looked towards the loud sound. It was our neighbors. They had been shot by the soldiers. The neighbors I’d known since I was born. They were there when I got stitches and when my Bat Mitzvah came around. Before I could see more, Mother turned my head the other way.
I could see the fear in my mother’s eyes. Her hand holding mine as tight as possible, I could feel her ring leaving an imprint in my hand.
“Nächster,” I could hear the German Soldier shout at us.
I could hear people praying, hoping somehow they could make it out okay. Genny, my sister, was wondering why people were so scared, “After all, we are going on vacation!” How could she still believe this. The soldier tugged my mother and forced our whole ghetto to the train. So many people fought back, hitting and screaming at the soldiers. I knew I would never see them again.
As we boarded the train, I could feel my heart pounding. All these questions flowed in my head, Why would our country do this to us? Where were they taking us to? And the question no one could answer, Why?
When we got on the train, I heard the cries of everyone and felt the pain that filled every single person’s heart. My mother pushed through the stench and sorrow of people. She took us to the window of the car. She and Father started whispering to each other. Not knowing if it was good or bad, I knew it was bad when they started to sob.
This was when Mother did something only the bravest could do. Father held her up, and she started to spread the barbed wire, making it just big enough for a person my size.
“Get on my shoulders,” Mother said to me.
At first, I didn’t want to. Because I knew if I did, I would never see my family again. After I didn’t do it, she said it in a firm way, holding back tears.
I did as she said.
Before I knew it, I was being thrown out of a moving train. I closed my eyes and held my breath, hoping that when I landed, I wouldn’t die.
I was lying on the ground. No family, no clue where I was. I could see my mom pushing me and the pain I was in. I landed on my hip. I turned to my side, my hip all bruised and in excruciating pain. Can pain truly end? As I looked around, no sign of life. Where am I? We were in the train for about an hour, so I say we were somewhere in Poland.
I’d been lying on the ground for around three hours, hoping someone would come and take me inside. Finally, some teenagers, who were speaking in Polish, came and started laughing at me. After a few minutes of staring at me, they took off every article of clothing I had, but they didn’t take my necklace. After they did this, I started to sob. Since no one was around, I started to cry really loudly. I didn’t feel embarrassed. No one was around to laugh at me. So I thought.
I thought that I heard someone. Or something. As I tried to crawl away from the tracks, someone told me something. “Do you need help?” As I heard this person ask me, I turned my head. It was a middle-aged white man with some gray hair and glasses standing with food and water.
After he told me about the townspeople contacting him about a young girl lying at the edge of the tracks, he took me to his church. He was a priest. His church was the biggest I’d seen. Big pillars held it up, and a giant clock was right in the middle of the structure. It was a very clean church. The churches in Hamburg were much dirtier. The white they were once had faded into gray.
He told me, “You are in Gdańsk, Poland.”
When we got to the church, every single person was staring at me. Well, I didn’t have any clothes on because the teenagers took my clothes as a joke. The only thing I had on was the Star of David. I’m not sure why they didn’t take my necklace. Maybe they thought they would be sent to where I was going.
A Jew standing in front of a bunch of Christians. Their faces, disgusted. At any time now, they could get me and the priest killed. The priest told me that he’d keep me, but only for a night. Then, he said he would find a family to take me. I didn’t even know why the priest cared that much about a Jew he found on the side of the tracks.
Before I went to bed, the priest gave me some clothes that didn’t fit me. I couldn’t complain because these would probably be my clothes for a long, long time. While I was sleeping, I realized this person was risking their life just to save me.
In the morning, I woke up to the smell of a beautiful breakfast with eggs, cheese, milk, and yogurt with granola. Would someone make this for me? He told me that he found a family, well a couple, and that they were waiting for me. (I guess he put it in the church newsletter.)
Before I left, the priest asked me, “What’s your name?”
When I saw my new “family,” they didn’t say anything to me. They just took me by the arm and put me in the back of their car. The expressions on their faces were blank. They probably didn’t know what to do with a 12-year-old girl.
I tried to talk to them. They just ignored me. I asked them their names. They showed me a piece of paper. Oliver and Lena. Maybe they didn’t speak German. I decided to keep talking to them. They didn’t respond. They then start talking in Polish. It took about 45 minutes to get to their farm. They had everything, pigs, cows, and so much more. I didn’t think I should tell them I was kosher. They probably wouldn’t listen.
When we got into the house, they directed me right into a tiny cupboard under the sink in the basement. It was small. No light. Sad. I figured I’d be spending the next few years of my life here. I was freaking out mentally. How would I eat? What would I eat? Will I go to school? I didn’t understand how people could be so cruel.
I could see their chicken staring at me. There was a leak in the sink. Drip, the sink went. There was mold on the “ceiling.” It was gross.
I opened the doors. I could see Oliver and Lena. They were talking. They looked concerned. I wanted to get to know them. They seemed like nice people, a nice couple. I stepped out of the cupboard. I’d been in the cupboard for like thirty minutes staring at the ceiling, and I already hated my new life. Wait, no. I couldn’t hate this life. I didn’t know if my family was even alive anymore. I walked towards them. They didn’t see me. I tapped on Oliver’s shoulder. He punched me in the face. Ow. I guess that was his immediate instinct. My whole face was in a little pain. I meant a lot of pain (but obviously not as bad as when I was thrown out of a moving train).
“My name is Gina,” I told them. They started talking in Polish. Lena was (or looked like) she was trying to convince Oliver about something.
Lena started walking towards me. She asked me a few questions in Polish. Since German and Polish are very similar, I knew what she was saying. How old are you? Where are you from? Where are your parents? The questions she asked me almost made me cry. Just as I was going to answer Lena’s questions, Oliver started to push me back into the cupboard.
September 2, 1946
It had been exactly one year since the war ended. I was now fifteen years old and didn’t know what to do. I took a boat to America with a friend I made when I went back to Hamburg to find any of my relatives. I didn’t find anyone, but now that I was here, I didn’t know what to do. The last three years of my life weren’t very eventful, but at the same time, I found things to do. I got a lot of sleep and watched the chickens.
I had no idea what was happening outside my cupboard. Oliver and Lena fed me at nights and in the mornings.
The moment the war was over, they kicked me out of their house. They gave me a ticket to Germany and one to America and told me that they were getting paid by the priest to take care of me. After they said that, they closed the door. I thanked them for everything. Even though they did it for money, they still risked their lives. Did I really want to go back to Hamburg? Hamburg became a mental warzone for me. I was battling loneliness.
I walked to the church to see if the priest was still there. Indeed, he was. I walked up to him.
“My name is Gina,” I told him.
“I know,” the priest told me.
He told me about how he was sorry about paying Oliver and Lena. I told him it was okay. He was doing it to protect me. A car pulled up in front of the church. It was there to pick me up and drive me to the the train station, where I’d take a train to Hamburg, Germany. I decided that all the bad events that happened over the past three years would be remembered but would not ruin my life.
I had no one and nothing except two tickets to completely different places. My journey started now.
October 11, 1992
After I got to America, I married that same friend, Aleksander. He has brown hair and green eyes. We decided on the boat that we would become good friends. Once we got to New York City, we bought a house in Brooklyn (as friends). Something happened, and he asked me to marry him. I said yes. Aleksander was in the same situation as me, in Poland as well. He is really sweet and funny, and we lived together for four years before we got married. Together, we had two kids, Mira and Aleksander Jr.. I educate children and adults about the Holocaust and World War II. I live in Brooklyn, New York. I think it is very important for people to know what happened from 1939 to 1945, how 50 to 80 million people died, and about the Nazis and the people who fought against the Axis powers and the Allies.