[July 29, 2019] She spoke in a clear but hushed voice. Gloria was born a Polish Jew in the early 1930s. This past weekend, I was invited by a friend to a small township historical society event to see war reenactors from the Revolutionary War to the Vietnam War. It was a good thing I attended the event. Little did I know that I would meet a Holocaust survivor.
Several veterans were invited to sit on the main stage, and we were each asked to say a few words to the many young people in attendance. They called it “living history.” By luck, I sat next to a woman about my age who was the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Her mother, Gloria, was sitting directly in front of me. Gloria was a young girl when the Soviet Union invaded and occupied eastern Poland in 1939; placing thousands in Gulags.
As Gloria and I were walking away from the stage, she told me a personal story. The small children of the Auschwitz, Poland Gulag (later a German concentration camp) were required to learn Russian; a difficult language, she told the audience. Her words tumbled out of the story of an older boy in her class that struggled to learn. All the kids made fun of him. But since she was Jewish, and raised by her parents to help people, she assisted the young Ukrainian boy to pass the class.
A year or so later, just as the German Army entered to take over the Russian gulag, she and several hundred others escaped. About 60 escapees were hiding in a barn several miles from the new German-run Concentration camp when guards from the facility went looking for escapees. A German soldier came to the barn with a German Sheppard dog to track them down.
When the soldier opened the door, he saw Gloria and the others but remembered that she had helped him learn the Russian language and had treated him kindly. He “looked” around at the 60 escapees and yelled to his platoon that there were no people in the barn. Despite escaping the gulag and not getting caught at the time, she was later rounded up and sent to a different Concentration camp (she spoke so low, I couldn’t make out the name).
All her family was killed in various concentration camps during the war. As she told it, she survived only by luck. At the end of the war, the U.S. Army entered her camp and were “so kind and helpful.” They gave them food and cigarettes. She remembered the soldiers and how happy she was of the camp’s liberation.
Years after the war, she moved to the United States and married another Holocaust survivor and raised a family together. They promised each other that they would “never forget.” Gloria told me that no matter what, she will “never forget” what the Russians and Germans did to her people. And neither will any of us there who heard her talk.