Gerda Blachmann

Gerda Blachmann

Born: April 24, 1923

Breslau, Germany

Gerda was an only child of Jewish parents. They lived in Breslau, a large industrial city on the Oder River. Before World War II, Breslau's Jewish community was the third largest in Germany. Her father worked as a salesman for a large hardware and building materials company. Gerda attended public school until age 9 when she was admitted to a Catholic girls' school.

1933-39: Gerda walked through the city to see the aftermath of a pogrom. The windows of Jewish shops had been shattered. A torched synagogue continued to smolder. She begged her parents to leave Germany. Months later, they decided they should flee. Gerda and her parents got visas to Cuba and left from Hamburg aboard the ship St. Louis on May 13, 1939. Arriving in Cuba on the 27th, they were told their visas were invalid. Denied entry, they had to return to Europe.

1940-44: Disguised as farm women, Gerda and her mother drove a hay wagon past the German border patrol to a farm on the French-Swiss border. They walked down a small ravine, crossed a stream and then slipped under a barbed-wire fence that marked the official border. But they were apprehended by Swiss border guards and held overnight. The next day, they were put on a train with other refugees. No one told them where they were going or what was going to happen to them.

Gerda was interned in a refugee camp in Switzerland for two years, and then worked in Bern in a blouse factory until the end of the war. She immigrated to the United States in 1949.