Nesse's family had a dairy business. The Germans occupied Lithuania in 1941 and established a ghetto in Siauliai. Nesse lived in the ghetto until 1943 when she was old enough to work. In 1944 Nesse, her mother, and a brother were deported to the Stutthof camp near Danzig. Nesse worked in several Stutthof subcamps until January 1945, when the inmates were put on a death march. She was liberated by the Soviets in March. Nesse, her mother, and two brothers survived, and she arrived in the United States in 1950.
Uh, let me tell you how I saw myself a few days after liberation. I have not seen myself in a mirror for almost two years. A few days after we were free, the Russians carried us, bodily actually, to the village, put us in little houses, until the makeshift hospital was made. And as I was laying in one of those houses on a straw sack, I saw a door with a windowpane. And I thought, I'm free, let me look outside how the free world looks." But as I looked through that little window pane, I saw a reflection. A reflection of the most horrible thing that anyone can imagine. A skeleton covered with skin, with big blue eyes. And as I turned around to look whose reflection I saw, I realized that was my reflection. This is how I looked.