Holocaust survivors share their stories

  • Published
  • By Kevin Gaddie
  • Team Eglin Public Affairs
A Holocaust Days of Remembrance ceremony was held here April 24.

More than six million Jews died during the Holocaust from 1933 to 1945.

The guest speakers were Molly Gross and Eta Hecht, Holocaust survivors.

Gross’ daughter, Lori Ripps, spoke on behalf of her mother.

Ripps said she felt privileged and obligated to share her mother’s story.

‘Many survivors are no longer with us,” she said.  “Those still alive are aging and soon will not be here to tell their experiences.  It’s up to us to be witnesses for our generation, the next generation and those to come, to keep their stories and memories alive.”

Ripps said her mother remembered being confused and terrified in 1942 when, at age 14, she and other family members in her Poland ghetto were rounded up by the Nazis and incarcerated in Peterswaldau, a German forced labor camp.  There, the prisoners were either selected for work or killed.

Gross’ last memory of her mother was offering her shoes to cover her mother’s bare feet, moments before she was shot, Ripps said.     

“Her dear mother was lying there among the dead and wounded, wearing her shoes,” said Ripps, her voice breaking.  “Their only crime was they were Jews.”

Her mother survived the shooting, but was murdered weeks later, Ripps said.  Gross’ father died in the Auschwitz gas chambers.

Gross worked making ammunition and sewed uniforms for the Hitler Youth.

During two-and-half years in the labor camp, Gross endured starvation, beatings, illness and witnessed countless atrocities, Ripps said.

Gross and her sister were liberated by Russian troops in 1945 when she was 17.  She now resides in Pensacola.

Hecht, born in Lithuania, was just two when the Germans invaded her country in 1941.

“We were targets of hatred and murder, not just by the Nazis, but also by Lithuanian collaborators,” she said.

Hecht, an only child, and her parents were sent to the Kovno Ghetto in Kaunas, Lithuania, where they lived for three years.

Hecht said she spent much of her incarceration sitting under a table, covered by an old cloth.

“We never knew when the Nazis would come searching for children,” she said.  “I remember feeling secure under the cloth.”

During the Kinder Action in 1944, when approximately 2,500 children were removed from the ghetto over a two-day period, Hecht’s parents decided to get their five-year-old daughter out.

“I was concealed in a hiding place covered by an old mattress,” she said.  “I stayed there for two days and nights.  It was cold, we had no food and I had to suppress a cough the whole time.  As young as I was, I was aware of the danger.”

Hecht’s mother smuggled her daughter out of the ghetto in a potato sack on her way to work.  She was passed on to her father’s colleague, a Christian school principal.  His family took care of her until the war ended.

“I was instructed to never admit I was Jewish,” she said.  “I was told to always say I was a Christian.”

Hecht’s father escaped from a train bound for a concentration camp and reunited with his daughter six months later.  They moved to Lodz, Poland, where her mother later joined them. The family relocated to France before moving to the United States.  Hecht now lives in Gulf Breeze.

The goal of Days of Remembrance is to educate present and future generations about the horrors of the Holocaust, and offer ways to ensure it never happens again, Ripps said.

“If we were to take a moment of silence for every victim of the Holocaust, we would be silent for more than 11 years,” said Ripps, remembering a quote she recently heard.  “But silent, we must never be.”