In Her Own Words...

 

A PROMISE NOT FORGOTTEN
In her words, a Holocaust survivor's promise kept to teach the world

what hatred and indifference can do to humanity.

 

 “We cannot change what was, but we can change what is and what will be.” 

 

Eddie, I see your smile, your devotion to my memory. Will you take over my promise? Or can you?  Do you remember my tears when I wanted you to eat when you were a toddler? Or when I did not want you to ride a motorcycle. Ed you are so sensitive to my tears. Do it for mine that do not flow so easy. Last Wednesday at the embassy when I spoke I looked at your eyes. They were full of tears and through them I saw the blue sky. Are you going to carry this tzavaa?

 

Pninale, we live miles away. I love you so much. You are my friend, my child, my confidant. Your life is not so easy. You teach Hebrew school. You teach our Jewish children about the holocaust. Will you take over my promise? Will you carry my tzavaa?

 

My dear Rochelle, you are our youngest. Can I burden you with my promise, with your sensitivity and emotions? I talk to you, I boss you around, I criticize you sometimes but this is because I love you. You get upset sometime with me but you  just say “ma...” You are the one that is so close to me. Are you the one that's holding on or do I not let you loose? Sometimes I say something giving you advice then I am sorry. I do not want to make turmoil in your life. I know you are the one that gets the biggest share of my faults. Calling you and bothering you. One day when I am gone you will call it valuable advice not criticism. The same way you will do to your children. I know the same way I got it from my mother, your Baba Sore Male may her memory be blessed forever, we will remember her with love. She was a survivor of the holocaust. At the age of forty-seven she had the courage to escape the last minutes from the death injections that the Nazi guards were giving to the few women prisoners that were in her camp Gutova. The Baba always spoke to you children of all the miracles. How nine times she was selected to die and somehow lived. She told us of the little ray of light, the support among the Jewish women in the camps, and she also spoke of the darkest days of madness and horror during the holocaust and she never failed to stress that the almighty watched over her.

Rochelle my child could you, would you, carry on my promise?

 

We share our mother's memories and lessons to carry on her promise of  teaching the world what happened during the dark days of the Holocaust of what hatred and indifference can do to humanity

                                                                                                                                                  Pnina Sher, Eddie Godin and Rochelle Fernandez

 

Our Mother's Promise:

"I was a little girl. I think that I survived the Holocaust by the grace of the Lord above and by the kindness of Jewish women that gave me a bite of bread, wrapped my body in straw to keep me warm, held me up when I was hurt by the guards, gave me hope, but also asked me to promise them that if I survived I would not let them be forgotten. I will never forget and always remember and tell the world what hatred can do. 

 

 

The Memories and I

 

“Memories cross many languages. We use memories for the sake of humankind. We learn from memory to make a better world. I do not know who made this statement. I use it so I will share those memories of mine with you my children, and grandchildren, with all the children of the world so we all together will learn what hatred can do and make it a better world. Let’s love not hate.”

 

April 30, 1981, the telephone rings and when I answer  a little voice on the other side asks, “Baba, we are studying the holocaust. How come some survivors have a number tattooed on their arms and some do not?” It is my oldest granddaughter Sarina asking those questions. She is seven years old. She is asking a question that I can answer because I am a survivor of the holocaust . I tell her, “Sarina there were many camps with different rules and regulations. In my camp, Stuthoff, we had numbers on our clothing. In Auschwitz people were tattooed.” I ask, “Sarina do you know my friend Lilly Malnik? She was in Auschwitz and has a number on her arm.” Sarinale answers me, “Yes Baba, I saw it” and hangs up the phone. This call inspires me to talk into the tape recorder and  to write as well. I feel today Sarina can call me and ask questions about the holocaust. She knows that I am a survivor of those horrible times. She knows the scar I have on my chin is a witness of history, of the holocaust, a witness of cruelty. Today she can still call me and ask questions.

 

“What happened to my Babbas, Zeidas, uncles and aunts?”

“What happened to the Jewish people that went to Kidush Hashem?”

“What really happened in the years of the holocaust?”

 

I am not a scholar. I really do not have too much education but I have a story to tell,  a true story, the history of the Jewish people of Siauliai, Lithuania. It is not easy to sit by yourself in a room and talk to a tape recorder, write, or type on a piece of paper. It is very difficult to sit and recall memories of those horrible times of hunger, starvation, degradation, and killings. But that little voice over the phone made me realize that I have to leave this true testimony for my children, grandchildren, and their children for generations to come to learn the truth about what happened in those days, in modern times, to humanity.

 

The whole week I was thinking of the day Gabe my oldest grandson was born and Jack and I went to the hospital to see Helene, his mother and see him. As we looked through the nursery window there he was, a beautiful innocent, baby with red hair. My love poured out to that baby boy even before I had a chance to touch him and then a few words from Jack. The man that never talks about the war, or his family. It is too painful. They were all killed in Ponaris Woods. Jack said, “a Godin, a Godin, my family will continue,” with tears in his eyes and a frog in his throat. Jack repeated those words so it was not just a loving grandson but a new generation. I stood in front of that nursery and thought Hitler did not win the war. We are here in spite of what happened.


 

It is July 29, 1988, a beautiful sunny day. Last night I had a dream; memories again Zichronot V'ani -- My Memories and I. Is it enough what I say or do ? Who will remember? If I don't put it down on paper who will tell my story?

I joke when I am asked if I wrote a book. I make statements that I do not know how to spell. That is true but it is no excuse. I can think, I can remember, and I can write. It is not through spelling correctly that we learn. The truth comes out through words and memories. Words are beautiful. We use them for hope. But memories are most valuable because we do not need dictionaries.

Here I am at the typewriter again. I am sixty years old, so busy and involved with all kinds of projects, especially with perpetuating the memory of the holocaust; telling my story, sharing memories, so others would know the truth and become better human beings. I feel that by teaching the past we will secure a better future.


 

There are so many horrible memories that even I choose not to recall. All the dead people, all the dead children, mountains of them. “Nesa, tell the world what happened” -- I hear in my dreams. I tell, I speak, I recall, but do I say enough? I wonder, can I open the last chamber of my soul to be believed? Can I do it?

 

Jack my husband is asking me “what are you writing?”

I answer, “a letter to my brothers, their children, and our children. A Tzavaa, a testimony.”

 

Jack says, “We have a will don't we?”

 

I answer, “this is not that kind of a will. It is a Tzavaa I accepted from my brothers and sisters that perished in the holocaust. A promise I made to remember them and tell the world what happened in those camps. Now is the time to bestow this promise to the next generation.”

 

Joshua, my youngest grandson, he wants to know. He is just four and a half years old but he asks many questions. “Who are the people in the picture? Pictures that I have standing on my cabinet in our family room .Where are they? he asks” I tell him they got lost in the war. He asked me if I was in the war was I scared. Did I get my scar on my chin in the war? It seems to me that just weeks ago he touched my scar and called it a boo-boo. He looks at me and asks, “can the war come again?” I assure him that these are different times. He does not need to worry, I say, “we live in America, the best country in the world, where peoples’ freedom is secure.”

 

When I sit in the exhibit and talk to youngsters I have mixed feelings. Yes, the exhibit helps to remember a million and a half children that perished in the holocaust. But to us, the survivors that volunteer it is not easy to recall all these terrible memories.

 

I sign my name and tell them I am just a survivor of the holocaust that speaks up. Little do they know I am still the victim that suffered for four years and survived by the grace of the lord above or by miracle but most of all with the help of Jewish women . I am still the victim of my own memories and those horrible nightmares  in which I am being sent to the left or the right.

 

Many times people ask me “how can you remember all those horrors?” I tell them, “how can  I not.”  How can one forget those Horrors. I wonder, is it good to have a good memory? Do people with poor memory dream?

 

Today is Yom Hashoah 1992. We just got back from the annual commemoration. This year my granddaughter Miri is here going to the University of Maryland. Miri, our daughter Rochelle, and I were given the honor to light one of the six memorial candles. I was so proud to have my child and grandchild fulfilling my promise of zechor, remembrance. The promise I made in the ghetto concentration camp and labor camps. I stood there on the bimah, near the menorah whispering "Ich gedenk eich meine liebe und teiere" I remember you my beloved and dear ones. I am keeping my promise to you to tell generation to generation. My children and grandchildren will never forget you. They will continue to tell of what happened during those dark days of the holocaust.

 

The children's chorus was singing songs of the holocaust and songs of hope. Yes, my dear acheinu bnei Israel we can not bring you back, we miss you and say Kaddish for you but I want you to know our slogan from the camps "zulhaches dem soine lomir leben" in spite of the enemy let’s survive. Some of us survived by the grace of hashem, the lord above, but most of us that made it is by the kindness of our Jewish people around us. I would have never made it through the holocaust if it would not have been for the Jewish ladies that gave me courage to live that told me not to give up. I will always say Kaddish for you all as long as I live. I will teach my children and my grandchildren to remember you. Rochelle and Miri stood there on the bima with tears in their eyes, holding my hand. I could tell that they knew how I felt. They knew that they have to carry on this legacy.

 

As I type this in 1996 many people (have) walked through the museum. People of every color and every religion. Our promise to our dear ones is coming through. We remember them with dignity, we tell the world the truth of what happened in the years of the holocaust. We also teach young people of what hatred can do. We tell them about the children that were so brutally killed in those years, when humanity turned it's head away and did not do anything to help us.

 

Yes, I walked in those death marches and I was in the horrible camps and I heard many women cry ~ if anyone will survive please tell future generation what happened.”

 

I remember it well. Those shoes were not shoes any more, they represented mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. I tell you as I touched those shoes I wondered, are those my father's shoes? Are those my mother's shoes? Those shoes represented our families that were killed. Can you imagine how we felt after our families were killed they made us assort their shoes, their clothing.

 

As I write these memories I remember  wondering in those dark days if there are any good people left in the world besides Mrs. F.  and the other Jewish ladies that were kind to each other. I remembered how at home before the war my mom used to tell us kids to put out some bread crumbs for the birds so they do not starve from hunger. I thought as I was passing those villages the people that live there they see us passing by every day, they see how we look so hungry and skinny, why don't they put out some crumbs of food so we would not starve?

 

I thought in those long nights, “Where is the world? Did everyone abandon us? Is there still a world?

 

I could not believe that all these horrors were going on and no one cared or interfered. Why did the good German people keep quiet? Why did they allow Hitler to continue to be their leader? How much longer can we continue to survive those conditions? There were no answers to my questions then and there is still no answer as I write this or type this in my computer in 1996. We all became like zombies day by day doing the same things hungry and scared. There was no sight to the end of all this.

 

How does one have strength to remember those darkest days without breaking down. This summer was not easy for me the kids ask me, “Ma, how are you doing with your memoirs?” They are proud that at the age of sixty-eight I am using the computer and writing. They do not know how many sleepless nights I had this summer while I am shaking up my memories. Yes I have been going out to share my memories for many years but I just speak about a few single days, a few incidents, I learned through the years to deal with. But how does one deal with the rest of the memory. I know I must do it so at least my children and grandchildren will be able to tell, “this is my mom’s life, this is what our Baba lived through.”

 

I remember the night of liberation well. Some of the women were rejoicing, some were saying prayers of thanks to G-d, many were crying. I personally cried. I did not cry of joy, I cried for the people that perished around me. I cried for my family. I wondered if any of them survived this hell on earth. Most of all I cried because I felt sorry for myself. Through the holocaust I lived day by day hoping to survive. I never believed that I would. When the women used to tell us the younger girls, to remember them I did not think that I would be the one to carry out this promise. Yes, all through the holocaust, it did not make a difference where we were, the women always told each other if any of us will survive we are to tell the truth of what happened in those horrible years of the holocaust.

 

Remember, tell the world what was done to our Jewish people was etched into my memory forever. Here I was free. Where do I go? What do I do next? Is anyone of my family alive? So many questions in my mind. Am I really going to survive the epidemic? Am I going to be the witness of those crimes? Am I going to be worthy to fulfill this promise, to remember the kdoshim shealchu lekidush hashem. The holy that perished for the sanctification of the lord’s name? On March tenth I was reborn.

 

As I dragged myself out to go to the bathroom I saw again this mountain of naked dead bodies on the very top were bodies fully clothed. Those were the victims that died the night of  liberation. I stood there for a second and said the Kaddish and promised the holy victims that if I live through my sickness I will remember them forever. I will say Kaddish for them as long as I live. I will not let the world forget them. I vowed that if I will have children or grandchildren I will tell them of what really happened in those years of the holocaust. I will remember from generation to generation." Zechor M'dor Ledor."

 

Our joy was indescribable. After the separation neither of us thought that we will see each other alive again. We spoke for hours about our experience during the past year. We shared feelings and memories. We hoped that someone, maybe my brothers, would be alive. After a good bath and a warm meal I went to bed and I think this was the first night after liberation that I had sweet dreams. I could not be grateful enough to the lord above for giving me back my mom and I am sure my mom felt the same.

 

I taught my children and my grandchildren to love all the people of the world regardless of race, creed, or religion. Yes I have dedicated my life, the life that was spared many years ago from the atrocities of the Nazis, to make sure that no child in this world would have to suffer as I did.

 

I have opened my heart and my soul on these pages. I am continuing to share memories of those horrible days. It becomes harder to do so .We the survivors are getting older many of us are gone forever. With them their testimonies and stories.I made a promise many years ago to remember and teach what hatred and indifference can do to humanity.

At this time I feel that it is time to let the world read my testimony. I hope that whoever will read my story will take over my promise and will not allow hatred in the world ever again. Please when you finish reading this book look at the world around you do not see a race or religion see a human being

 

Make sure that the most wonderful country in the world the united States of America should be an example to the world. A country where all the people regardless how they look or how they pray or where they come from live in freedom together .

 

God Bless America.


 

Other quotes from her talks

 

When you walk out, don´t see a race or religion, see a human being that the lord, or whatever name you call him created and treat him the way you want to be treated.”


“There is the right to speak up, but not with the intent of (harming) someone.”

 

“How can I forget it?” she says. “To cry is not enough.”

 

"I was a little girl. I think that I survived the Holocaust by the grace of the Lord above and by the kindness of Jewish women that gave me a bite of bread, wrapped my body in straw to keep me warm, held me up when I was hurt by the guards, gave me hope, but also asked me to promise them that if I survived I would not let them be forgotten. I will never forget and always remember and tell the world what hatred can do. 

 

“Don’t see a religion,” she said. “See a human being.”

 

 “We cannot change what was, but we can change what is and what will be.” 

 

But most of all teach the world what happened during the dark days of the Holocaust. What hatred and indifference can do to humanity
 

We the survivors of the Holocaust are getting old many are not alive anymore please take over our promise and let’s stop hatred in the world let’s make sure that no child would have to suffer like I did.
 

I am not a speaker or professor or politician. I am a survivor of the Holocaust and I am here for one reason only, to share memories. I do so that you would know the truth but most of all not to allow such atrocities in humanity ever again.

 

"What do we learn?" Godin asked the audience. "Do we speak up for another human being? Are we there for each other? God in heaven created us all, and we have to be responsible and stop the hatred."

 

Godin said what had happened to her and millions of others occurred because evil was allowed to enter the hearts and minds of people who looked at others differently than themselves.

"When you leave this room," she told the inmates, "don't see a race or a religion. See a friend. Let's learn to love again."

"Look at me," Godin told the inmates, who sat in sections determined by the color of their jail garb -- gray sweats for youthful offenders (those 20 years old and younger) and blue for adults. "I am a prisoner of war, of a concentration camp, and see what I am doing with my life to teach young people."

 

"There was no judge, no jury, no law, no sentence. ... They just came and took you away," Godin said later as she stood before more than 160 inmates seated in the county jail's gymnasium.


I taught my children and my grandchildren to love all the people of the world regardless of race, creed, or religion. Yes I have dedicated my life, the life that was spared many years ago from the atrocities of the Nazis, to make sure that no child in this world would have to suffer as I did.