Born Karchai, Lithuania
March 15, 1898
Sara, born Sara Bernstein, was one of six children in a Jewish family in the Lithuanian village of Karchai. Her father was a farmer. Sara attended secondary school in Jonava and in 1920 she moved to Siauliai, where she met and married Pinchas Galperin. The couple owned and ran a dairy store, selling butter, milk and cheese. They had three children--two sons and a daughter. 1933-39: In addition to running the family store and rising early every morning to buy dairy products from the local farmers, Sara was also involved in several women's organizations that aided the sick and poor. They sent packages to the families of the sick and provided food to widows and orphans. In 1939 Germany invaded Poland. Lithuania, at the time, was still a free nation. 1940-44: In 1940 the Soviets annexed Lithuania, and a year later German troops took Siauliai and moved the city's Jews into a ghetto. On November 5, 1943, the Germans issued conflicting orders on reporting to work. Confusion reigned. The Jewish police warned people it would be safer to find a work brigade that day, telling Sara workers were needed at a nearby factory. But Sara did not have a Jewish star required to leave the ghetto. Pinchas gave her his saying, "I'm a strong, big man; they won't take me." When Sara returned, Pinchas had been deported. In early 1945 Sara was liberated on the Baltic coast by Soviet troops. She learned Pinchas had been gassed at Auschwitz.
Nesse Galperin Godin
Nesse was born to an observant Jewish family in Siauliai, known in Yiddish as Shavl. Her parents owned a store that sold dairy products. The city was home to a vibrant Jewish community. It had over a dozen synagogues and was renowned for its impressive cultural and social organizations.
1933â€“39: My family was very religious and observed all the Jewish laws. I attended Hebrew school and was raised in a loving household, where the values of community and caring always were stressed. After the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, we heard from relatives in Lodz that Jews there were being treated horribly. We could not believe it; how could your neighbors denounce you and not stand up to help you? 1940
At home we spoke Yiddish. Because of having a nanny, the housekeeper, I had to learn Lithuanian because she didn't speak Yiddish. So when I, my first languages were Yiddish and Lithuanian and at the age of four I was sent to preschool to a Hebrew day school, so I learned Hebrew. By four or five I spoke already three languages. http://www.ushmm.org/lcmedia/viewer/wlc/testimony.php?RefId=NGL1092F
I remember all the beautiful holidays. Holidays were very special, very special. The Holy Holidays, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippurâ€¦we children could hardly wait the day should be over. You know, it's long services here, but can you imagine in Europe? You went in the morning, you stayed till night. We children, it was made arranged that we could go somewhere and eat lunch on Yom Kippur.
And on Purim, oh we used to go with groggers, and we used to make noise when they say the name of Haman. We just had a wonderful time, kids celebrating, and when I come here to synagogue and I see again beautiful Jewish children sitting around with their groggers it reminds me of those days before the war. (Interviewer: Did you dress up in costumes?) We dressed up in costumes and it was just marvelous, it was just beautiful.
I used to go to to carry the shalach monos, we called it shalach monos. And sent, bringing gifts. Because you see, when you brought shalach monos the people the people that you brought the shalach monos to, they gave you back to take the shalach monos to your house or they gave you shalach monos money. So it was a very wonderful thing to do. And it naturally was chick peas and hamantaschen and sometimes fruit, sometimes some other kind of candy or whatever that we used to take from house to house. It was very, very popular. I'm glad you reminded me.
Well I tell you, I was always a goodie-goodie girl. I'm not so nice now sometimes, but I always wanted to please my parents, always wanted to please my teachers and I enjoyed everything. I was glad toâ€¦ always wanted to know, always anxious to learn. When my oldest brother went to the university to be an engineer, electrical engineer, and I thought, "Oh, he's going to build planes, that's what I want to do." And I, I really was dreaming to be engineer as a child. So there was really not a thing that I didn't enjoy. I loved to sing, I loved to dance, I loved to belong to the Zionist organization, to Maccabi, to do sports, to play the piano, to do many things. And I enjoyed to study, I really did.
In those days families didn't have cars. Yes, there were some people that were very wealthy, like the people that owned the shoe factory, the leather factory. They had a car but little people like us, you went by train. Some people that lived on the farms, they went by horse and buggy, but where we lived to go to Vilna was far, you had to go by train. Like I mentioned before, you couldn't go to Vilna, to Vilnius,as it's called now, because of political reasons between Poland and Lithuania. But I don't remember, in 1937 or '38, the border was opened and we were the first family that traveled to my father's birthplace. At that point my father had nine brothers and sisters and you can imagine how wonderful it was for everybody to be together.
I had beautiful blonde long hair that were made into braids. Now at my school you were not allowed to come with long hair loose. Now I had a wonderful girl friend that also had long hair and one day she took me and she said "Nesse, open your braids and we will both come with the hair loose. What are they going to do to us?" Well, let me tell you, that was the last day that I had long hair. They called my parents and my Mom took me to the barber, not the beauty shop, and that's when my hair came down, as you see in the picture, short hair because I complained, I didn't want the braids, and find all kinds of excuses, so my Mom said, "Okay, so you'll have short hair, you can just comb it."
Now to go into the ghetto you just had to show the certificate. If you had the certificate, they let you in through the gate. So about five thousand people got into the ghetto. We had ten thousand Jewish people into the two ghettos. The people that did not got the, get this yellow certificate, I believe it's about 3,500 of them--the orphanage, the old-age home, the elderly, the sick, the children from many families, and many, many people that they came to their home last and there was no more room in the ghetto. They were put into the city synagogues, in the shulen, as we called it, in the shul. With hunger, no water. They were begging for food, they were begging for them to be saved. People were trying--our Jewish community council, who were wonderful people, they tried so hard to save. They were saying already, "Okay, take them to this little city of Zagare." They thought at least they will live, because we had already the thousand men experience. These people were killed just like the thousand men, in another forest, 3,500 of them. So by the time the ghetto was formed, I don't know exactly whether it was August or September, 1941.I don't remember. But I know [by the] High Holidays, we were already--my family--in the ghetto. Half of our population was killed.
1940â€“44: On June 26, 1941, the Germans occupied our city, just four days after the invasion of the USSR. In the weeks that followed, SS killing units and Lithuanian collaborators shot about 1,000 Jews in the nearby Kuziai forest. In August, we were forced to move into a ghetto, where we lived in constant hunger and fear. There I witnessed many "selections," during which men, women, and children were taken to their deaths. My father was among them. In 1944 as the Soviet army approached, the remaining Jews were deported to the Stutthof concentration camp. There I was given the number 54015
From Stutthof, Nesse was transported to several camps, and was sent on a death march in January 1945. In the freezing cold winter weather and with little food, many of the prisoners died. On March 10, 1945, she was liberated by Soviet troops. In 1950 after spending five years in the displaced persons camp in Feldafing, Germany, Nesse immigrated to the United States.
To play the video go to;
"A skeleton covered with skin, with big blue eyes. And as I turned to look whose reflection I saw, I realized that was my reflection."
I tell you what I looked like. I weighed at liberation sixty-nine pounds. I'm not a very short lady. I don't know how tall I was at that time, how much I grew during the war, when, uh...I am five four and a half now. Can you imagine sixty-nine pounds?
My face was swollen because I was beaten up severely on the death march. My hands had frostbite. My toes were black from frost. I had one dress, a blanket that was wrapped around my body. Between the blanket and the dress, my ba...body was wrapped around with straw. Somehow we found straw on the ground and we tried to insulate ourselves with it.
Uh, let me tell you how I saw myself a few days after liberation. I have not seen myself in a mirror for almost two years. A few days after we were free, the Russians carried us, bodily actually, to the village, put us in little houses, until the makeshift hospital was made. And as I was laying in one of those houses on a straw sack, I saw a door with a window pane. And I thought, "I'm free. Let me look outside how the free world looks." But as I looked through that little window pane, I saw a reflection. A reflection of the most horrible thing that anyone can imagine. A skeleton covered with skin, with big blue eyes. And as I turned around to look whose reflection I saw, I realized that was my reflection. This is how I looked
In 1944 Nesse, her mother, and a brother were deported to the Stutthof camp near Danzig. Nesse worked in several Stutthof subcamps until January 1945, when the inmates were put on a death march. She was liberated by the Soviets in March. Nesse, her mother, and two brothers survived, and she arrived in the United States in 1950.
I remember in Lodz, my mother saying to me, "Nessele"--that's an endearing word for your name, Nesse, Nessele--"you know we are two women alone. I think it would be a good idea if one of us would get married." Now my mom was 46 years old, and I thought in my heart, "Why would she want to get married? She has me." I was angry. But the next thing out of my mother's mouth was, "My child, I had a wonderful husband. I don't think I will marry again, but I think you should marry. Look here is a few guys. They're all very nice. Choose one and get married. We'll have a man that will help us and take care of us." So, honestly, I just looked at Jack and I thought he was cute. And, uh, many times I ask him, I say, "Jack, who proposed? How did we decide to get married?" I don't remember kissing him before we got married. I don't remember us being in love before we got married. We needed each other. But let me tell you, we are married a long time. We are very much in love now.