In 1939, Gerda's brother was deported for forced labor. In June 1942, Gerda's family was deported from the Bielsko ghetto. While her parents were transported to Auschwitz, Gerda was sent to the Gross-Rosen camp system, where for the remainder of the war she performed forced labor in textile factories. Gerda was liberated after a death march, wearing the ski boots her father insisted would help her to survive. She married her American liberator.
All of a sudden I saw (pause) a strange car coming down the hill, no longer green, not bearing the swastika, but a white star. It was sort of a mud-splattered vehicle but I've never seen a star brighter in my life. And two men sort of jumped out, came running toward us and one came toward where I stood. He was wearing battle gear. I have to think...you know. His helmet was this mesh over that and he was wearing dark glasses and he spoke to me in German. And he said, "Does anybody here speak German or English?" and I said, "I speak German." And I felt that I had to tell him we are Jewish and I didn't know if he would know what the star means or anything, but you know, and I uh looked at him, I was a little afraid to tell him that but I said to him, "We are Jewish, you know." He didn't answer me for quite a while. And then his own voice sort of betrayed his own emotion and he said, "So am I." I would say it was the greatest hour of my life. And then he asked an incredible question. He said, "May I see the other ladies?" You know, what...what we have been addressed for six years and then to hear this man. He looked to me like a young god. I have to tell you I weighed 68 pounds. My hair was white. And you can imagine, I hadn't had a bath in years. And this creature asked for "the other ladies." And I told him that most of the girls were inside, you know. They were too ill to walk, and he said, "Won't you come with me?" And I said, "Sure." But I didn't know what he meant. He held the door open for me and let me precede him and in that gesture restored me to humanity. And that young American of the day is my husband.
Why are survivor testimonies important in studying World War II and the Holocaust?
How do oral histories differ from other primary sources such as artifacts, documents, and photographs? What can we learn from different types of primary sources?
What challenges immediately faced survivors of the Holocaust?
Explore the Museum's website and Collections to find out more about Gerda's story.
We would like to thank Crown Family Philanthropies 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.