Survivor tells students about Holocaust SOUTHWEST -- Mount Airy * Woodbine * Taylorsville * Winfield

May 07, 1993|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff Writer

Nesse Godin lost her youth to the Nazis.

When she was 13 and living with her family in Siauliai, a small vTC city in Lithuania, the Nazis invaded without dropping any bombs. Jewish families like hers were rounded up and sent to live in crowded ghettos, surrounded by barbed wire.

Jewish men and boys were thrown in jail and then later "relocated" to forests, where they were stripped of their clothing, made to dig holes and then shot to death.

"We buried the dead," she recalled.

Mrs. Godin survived two years in the ghetto and then another two years in concentration and labor camps before the Russian armies pushed the Germans out in 1945. She was 17.

Now, at age 65, the woman from Silver Spring speaks of that lost youth to students in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia. Yesterday, she told her story to more than 400 history students at South Carroll High School.

"I'm not a lecturer. I'm not a teacher," Mrs. Godin said. "I'm a survivor of the Holocaust. We must never let anything like this happen again."

About six million Jews perished during the Holocaust.

Mrs. Godin, who married another Holocaust survivor after her liberation, said she never knew hatred as a child. She remembers people of different colors and religions living peacefully in her homeland.

"We played with non-Jewish children," she recalled. "Yes, there were problems. There was silent hatred of Jewish people. We didn't pay much attention to it. Do these things go away? No, these things don't go away."

With the Nazi occupation, laws were established prohibiting Jews from attending schools, owning businesses or even walking on sidewalks. Jews were made to wear the Star of David or face death.

"We called it a yellow patch," she said. "They wanted to know where the Jewish people were. I see healthy faces here. I don't know what religion you are."

Mrs. Godin recounted a day in the ghetto -- Nov. 5, 1943 -- when a caravan of trucks arrived unexpectedly. Initially, the Jews thought they were being transported to camps. Mrs. Godin's mother made her wear two layers of clothing and put extra bread in her pockets.

"We were so scared," she said.

Later, the Gestapo and SS arrived with dogs and found children, babies, pregnant women and the elderly -- all of whom were not allowed in the ghetto. Mrs. Godin's mother had bribed a commissioner to smuggle her youngest child to the ghetto.

"We heard such cries -- cries I never hope you have to hear," Mrs. Godin said.

About 1,000 children up to age 14, 500 elderly and sick people and a few hundred others were taken to the gas chambers at Auschwitz. In all, about 1.5 million children were killed during the Holocaust, she said.

"I lost my father," Mrs. Godin said. "He was off from work that day. Why did they kill this one man? He was Jewish. He was kind. The world was silent. We have to learn not to be silent."

Although she was separated from her mother and her older brothers after arriving at the Stutthof concentration camp, Mrs. Godin said, she was reunited with them months after the Russians moved in.

Her life in the labor camps was difficult. The work was hard and there was so little food that many starved to death. Others died of diseases. Mrs. Godin weighed 69 pounds when the labor camps were liberated.

Throughout her imprisonment, Mrs. Godin said, she maintained faith in humanity and prayed that God would let her live "one extra day." She said she owes her life to Jewish women who helped her along the way.

Following Mrs. Godin's presentation, students asked for further details about her life in the labor camps, her reaction to the situation in Bosnia and to those who claim the Holocaust never happened.

"I've run into a few people who don't believe," she said. "The only people who don't believe, want it to happen again."

About Bosnia, she said, "It's what you do. It's what I do. This shouldn't happen anywhere in the world. Who is to blame? Everyone. The killers. The bystanders and anyone who didn't do anything."

Jim Horn, a South Carroll history teacher who arranged Mrs. Godin's visit, said he hoped students heard her message about not hating and about being tolerant of people of different religion and color.

"A lot of history is so easy to read about," he said. "This is living history and I think they got a lot out of it."

The students, he said, just finished lessons on the Holocaust. Some students plan to visit the Holocaust museum in Washington next week.

Mrs. Godin's story is there in pictures and in words.

She has helped raise money for the museum and has persuaded other Holocaust survivors to give testimony.

"It's for you I'm talking," she told the students. "So you will not have to experience anything like this."

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