Gerda was raised in a religious family in the small town of Ansbach, Germany, where her father was the Jewish butcher. She attended German schools until 1936, and then moved to Berlin to attend a Jewish school. She returned to her hometown after Kristallnacht in November 1938. Her family was then ordered to move to Munich, and in July 1939 her father left for England and then the United States. He was unable to arrange for the rest of his family to join him. Gerda moved to Berlin in 1939 to study nursing. She worked in the Jewish hospital there for two years. Her mother was deported to Riga, Latvia, and her sister, also a nurse, was transported to Auschwitz; neither survived the war. In 1943, Gerda was sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto where she continued to work as a nurse. She left on a transport to Switzerland in February 1945 and was reunited with her father in the United States in April 1946.
In fact, in all of Germany you were either very religious or you weren't aware of your Jewishness at all--you were very, very Reform. Conservative Judaism had not been invented yet. [Laughing] So, yes, we were very religious and, um, interestingly enough, um, the...the..the religion was state supported. In other words, we always had to mark on, on taxes or on any forms--on birth certificates, wedding forms, or anything--our, our affiliation. It was always "Jewish" because the state paid for the upkeep of the synagogue. The state paid for the salary of the rabbi or the hazan [synagogue official; cantor] or the shohet [person licensed by rabbinic authority to slaughter animals for use as food in accordance with Jewish laws]. So, there was never a question that we were very Jewish, and everybody knew that and everybody, up to a certain point, respected it too.
We would like to thank The Crown and Goodman Family and the Abe and Ida Cooper Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for the Holocaust Encyclopedia. View the list of all donors.