Holocaust Remembrance Day

On Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew), we remember our local Puget Sound survivors and their stories, told in their own words. Photographs are by Dara Rosenwasser.

Celia Etkin
(1922 – 2009)
b. Sighet, Romania
Wartime Location: Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany; Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland; Hamburg & Braunschweig, Germany; Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, Germany
“My faith is very strong. We had to stand in the morning. Every morning we had to stand outside to be counted by the Germans. If one person was missing they sounded the alarm and the noise was unbearable. There was an electric fence right where we were standing, about 30 feet high. I looked up, I said ‘G-d, there is no way out of here. You just have to help. You have to get us out of here. Moses took the Jews out of Egypt. You have to help us get out of here.’ I believed it, that someday the day will come. And sure enough, that day came.”
Edith Herskowits
(1925 – 2011)
b. Munkatch, Hungary
Wartime Location: Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland
“I was taken to Auschwitz with my two sisters. We didn’t work but we didn’t get any food. I was so weak and hungry [at liberation]. I couldn’t even stand up. When I think about it, almost 40 people from my family died. But I was lucky, just lucky.”
Lore Hirsch
(1924 – )
b. Cologne, Germany
Wartime Location:  Riga, Latvia ghetto; Kaiserwald concentration camp, Latvia; Stutthof concentration camp, Poland
“I went through many years of darkness and worries, which no doubt have left their mark. By a miracle, I was the only one of my nearest relatives who survived this ordeal of many years of slavery, and so I am able to speak of the experience. It was hope, and inner strength, and will of survival, plus physical fitness that helped me to overcome this terrible chapter in my young life. There is no compensation for this tragic time in life but I am pleased to say, after many years of time, of worries and trouble, normal life has returned and I am able to tell you of a happy family which was built up over the many years that followed.”
Eric Landau
(1914 – 2011)
b. Kamburgs-Krono, Germany
Wartime Location: As a U.S. serviceman- Algiers, Algeria; Tunisia; Sicily, Italy; liberated Buchenwald concentration camp, Weimar, Germany
“I was out in a field on a Saturday. It was raining, and it was cold. We were digging field mines in Alabama [for basic training]. It was miserable. I was digging holes and covered in mud, and a guy came driving up in a jeep. He was an officer and he said, ‘The colonel wants you; I don’t know what it is about you, but they don’t want you doing any heavy work. They want you for something special.’ The rest of my company stayed in the states for the whole war. Me, the poor yid, I got a steel helmet, a new uniform, and after several stops, I ended up on a ship with a book, “Welcome to Africa” and landed not far from Casablanca. From there I went to Algiers. We had just taken Algiers. I was assigned to translate stuff from German into English. One night they woke me, 2:00 in the morning. There was a note from the desk of Adolf Hitler. I was told this was very important that I translate this immediately. All it said was, ‘The soup was too salty!”
Miriam Lippman
(1928 – )
b. Krakow, Poland
Wartime Location: Exile in Siberia and Uzbekistan
“In Poland, after the war, I went to the university for one quarter, and I belonged to a Zionist organization, kind of like Jewish Scouts. Pogroms started and after a long deliberation my parents decided to send me to Israel. All of the group was going, kids ranging from seven to eighteen. There was no legal way to get out of Poland. We went with guides a little older than us to illegal borders, to leave the country. You drove by day and crossed the borders at night. We arrived in Salzburg, Austria where there was a displacement camp where all were planning to go to Israel. I was pretty involved in this, the movement and everything, and I was happy. But then Poland got quiet again. There were pogroms but they stopped. My parents wanted me back. I was their only child. I didn’t want to go back, but my mother sent somebody for me, and I didn’t want to come. Then I got a letter saying that my mom was very sick. So I decided to go back to Poland, and I was very mad when I found her in good health! But I kept saying ‘I’m going back! I’m going back [to the displacement camp]!’ so my parents would go too. We decided to go to Israel.”
Tsilya Murshteyn
(1937 – )
b. Shargorod, Ukraine
Wartime Location: Jurien ghetto, Ukraine
“Jewish ritual was prohibited in the ghetto. Some people tried in the basement. I remember they tried in the basement. But it was dangerous, very dangerous. That’s why my mom didn’t allow me and my sister and brother to go, because it was very dangerous. If the Nazis came, they would kill everybody. For me, it was not necessary because I was a child. But for old people it was necessary to observe Shabbat. The old people, they did this because it was their life.”
Sala Nakdimen
(1920 – 2009)
b. Rzeszow, Poland
Wartime Location: Hiding in multiple locations in Poland and Russia
“We heard that some people were smuggled, had found a place where the water was not deep across the river, and if people wanted to go to Russia, they were smuggled. We arranged with the Polish officers that we would go. We met the next day. We started to go. I pulled my skirt up, put my things that I had together, and the Germans screamed, ‘Stop!’ Of course we didn’t stop but it was the longest 10 minutes of my life. I expected a bullet in my back any second. They kept screaming, ‘Stop!’ but we kept going and crossed the river. Imagine! Then the Russians screamed, ‘Stop!’ We panicked and just ran. We ran and ran and ran until we hit a little forest, and it was quiet. It took us a little while to realize that no one was following us. We went to the address of some Communists. Such nice fellows.”
Fred Roer
(1920 – 2010)
b. Kerpen, Germany
Wartime Location: Germany; Lhodz ghetto, Poland; work/concentration camps in Posen, Poland; Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland
“How did I survive? The will to live I guess, being lucky at the same time, able to get some extra food, being able to trade my clothing for food, a Polish worker would share some of his sandwich with me, you know, so I got some extra food. Everyone who survived was just plain lucky and was just at the right place at the right time. Anyone who tells you that they survived because they were smarter — it wasn’t so.”
Eleanor Rolfe
(1930 – )
b. Hamburg, Germany
Wartime Location: Hamburg, Germany; London, England; Amsterdam, Holland; Seattle, WA
“I knew my father was in prison. All of our servants had to leave. I remember how they cried when they had to leave. They couldn’t work for us anymore. I could, at that time, feel that my life was falling apart, but my mother tried to shield me as much as she could. And the worst thing was the night the Nazis came into our home and we didn’t know where my father was. He just didn’t come home. That night my mother told me that conditions were very, very dangerous. She was kind of hysterical. She didn’t know what to do, and we sat and cried. Gentiles would take a risk and come and visit. It was right after the Kristallnacht and everybody was watched. I remember the broken windows. It didn’t really sink in, but I was told I had to leave, ‘You’re going to be where your brother is.’ So that softened it, but it turned out not to be the case. I think when life is in turmoil you don’t think about it that much, you just go with the flow. One minute I lived in all the comforts of life, and the next minute, I was all alone. The kids on the kindertransport were all confused and wondering what happened. We weren’t really empathetic to each other. A lot of them cried, and I think that’s why when we got to Holland, the Dutch people heard what was going on and reached into the train and gave us goodies. We really don’t know why the Germans allowed the kindertransport. No one has ever figured that out. But the British people, mainly the Quakers, tried to save as many German children as they could. They couldn’t get adults out, but they could get children.”
Ruth Samter
(1930 – )
b. Breslau, Germany
Wartime Location: Shanghai, China
“They came for my father in November of 1939. It was 9 in the morning, and they took him just as he was dressed. My mother had a birthday on November 7, and the table was still set with the birthday presents. They took the whole apartment. Everything was taken, the jewelry and everything. My father went to concentration camps in Dachau and to Buchenwald. But if you had the money and tickets, you were able to get people out. My grandparents were able to give us all the money that we needed to book passage to China. My mother put us in the Jewish orphanage in Breslau so she could pursue my father’s release. It was only a short while before my mother was able to get the passage and everything. The driver who drove for the Nazis [when my father was picked up] was a former employee of my grandparents. He didn’t want to say anything, but my mother looked at him, and he let her understand that he would be back. And he did come back, asked for some supplies for my father and told her exactly what to do. My mother had to deal with the Nazis. She put on a blonde wig and convinced them they should let my father go. My father got out and we left for Shanghai.”
Anna Shumskaya
(1929 – 2011)
b. Lubny, Ukraine
Wartime Location: Hiding in Ukraine and Poland
“After the war, people asked me, “How did you survive? Were you with the Nazis?” How could I be a Nazi? I was 12 to 14 years old and Jewish. In 1943, when Professor Blaustein was hiding and I stayed with him, the Nazis came with big dogs, specially trained dogs, and were looking around. Professor Blaustein was hiding outside near the building, but they found him. They found three Jewish men and told them, ‘Go!’ [They were taken.] The Nazi soldiers went around to all the buildings and ordered people, ‘Go!’ But a soldier saw me and didn’t tell me to go. A young SS soldier saw me, but he said nothing. And I survived.”
Hansi Sternberg
(1924 – )
b. Antwerp, Belgium
Wartime Location: Hiding in Belgium and France, and escaped to Cuba
“In the suitcase they [German border patrol] found some papers that belonged to me. They were mostly recipes and knitting instructions with abbreviations. When they saw that they thought it was code and said I was a spy and couldn’t leave. The rest of the family could go. It took a long time explaining that I was only 15 years old, and my hobby was cooking and knitting, and the abbreviations were that way in most recipes and also knitting. Finally, they believed it but confiscated all the papers. Then we had to be searched. We had to strip so they could inspect all our clothing and to make sure nothing was strapped to us. Everything was okay after that, and we left the German border. But by that time we were nervous wrecks.”
Simon Strauss
(1917 – 2010)
b. Wachenbuchen, Germany
Wartime Location: Prison in Frankfort, Germany; Buchenwald concentration camp, Germany; England; U.S.A.
“My mother tried to help get me out of Buchenwald. She had a tough time. She went to Hanover to try to get me out. My mother worried about me day and night. She had no education but she had good common sense. She and my grandmother had guts. G-U-T-S guts! You had to have connections, and then you had only one chance to get out of the country. My employer, Ellis-Meyer, also did what they could. I was in Buchenwald for 13 weeks, then was able to get to England with their help.”
Nonna Zadanovski
(1934 – )
Wartime Location: Concentration Camp Pechora in Transnistria, Ukraine
“After I witnessed all these atrocities, I still live in a state of constant fear. I have panic attacks and worry about everything. Nevertheless, I think that G-d has always watched and still is watching after me. I had a lot of near death experiences. Right before the war, I almost drowned. Then, I was walking to bring my father lunch when a thunderstorm started and I stood under a tree. The tree caught on fire, but I survived. Then, I was in the concentration camp for three years, and I survived again. At the same time I can say that I never did anything wrong to anyone. I never caused anyone any trouble. I never lied.”

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