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Memoir: Eva Galler

Eva Galler

Eva Galler was born in Oleszyce, Poland, on January 1, 1924. She was the eldest of eight children in her family. When she was seventeen, Galler and her family were rounded up by the Nazis and put onto a cattle train headed for the Belzec death camp. She managed to escape from the train and from the subsequent Nazi gunshots aimed at her and her two siblings, Berele (aged 15) and Hannah (aged 16). Only Eva survived. After her fortunate escape, Galler boarded a train to Krakow, Poland, where she was found by authorities with other orphans but assumed to be a Gentile. Then, Galler was sent to a market in Vienna, where German farmers went to pick up workers. She ended up at a farm in the Sudentenland, on the German-Czechoslovakian border, and worked there for a year before being transferred to yet another farm.

When the war was over, Galler returned briefly to Wroclaw, Poland. She discovered that only 12 out of the 3000 Jewish people in Oleszyce had survived the war. Of those few was a friend of hers who had been sent to Auschwitz instead of Belzec. Through her friend she met her future husband, Henry, and also acquired a transit visa to Sweden. She and Henry married and lived in Sweden for 8 years, first living in abject poverty off of a single dishwashers’ salary and slowly moving up the social and economic ladder. Henry was able to get a high school degree and find work as a foreman; Eva worked at a factory making blouses. Her first child was born after they had lived in Sweden for 3 years.

Galler and her husband immigrated to the United States in 1954, and lived in New York for 7 years. She finally settled down in New Orleans, where she still lives today . She has 3 daughters, and 8 grandchildren. [1]

From an interview with John Menszer

I Want to Live Too

We were a big family. We were eight children. I am the oldest of eight. When they took us to the trains to take to the death camp, I was seventeen years old and my youngest brother was three years old and I still hear him scream, “I want to live too.”

Only the Bad Laws Applied to Us

. . .they spoke about the laws in Germany. The laws . . . the laws didn’t apply to us. Only the bad laws applied to us, that we couldn’t walk on a sidewalk, only in the middle of the street. And we wear a star that everybody should recognize us. But it wasn’t a law that somebody couldn’t kill us. That law didn’t apply to us. It wasn’t any justice. We couldn’t go and sue anybody, and everybody could do to us whatever they wanted. And another thing that a war turned the people . . . the people turn into animals. People get demoralized in a war. You can’t trust anybody. The neighbors turned into enemies. The neighbors who weren’t Jewish didn’t want to know us anymore. They were friends before. During the war when everybody tried to kill us, nobody helped.

If Somebody Would Have Given Us a Chance

They took us in January . . . I remember . . . January 4th, 1943. It was very cold. It was that time such a cold winter that when you walked, the snow crunched under your feet. The S.S. people came into the ghetto, and they walked us . . . they chased us with rifles to the train. That time when they chased us, they didn’t have television yet, so nobody saw whatever it happened. But now when you see on the television, and people they chasing out from Kosovo, and people . . . and they are going into tent cities, and it’s very sad to look at it. But, to compare to the Holocaust, if somebody would have given us a chance to walk out of Germany, if to live in a camp, in a tent city . . . together the whole family . . . everybody would have been grateful. They didn’t give us that chance. They took us into the train. It’s a chaos was by the loading the trains because children cried, and parents tried to keep together with the children, and families wanted to be together. Now we came in, into that cattle train when it was full and closed from outside, locked that nobody could . . . was able to go out. The small windows with barbed wires, it wasn’t any glass, only barbed wires. Of course, we knew that time what is awaiting us. Because we knew that time it was Camp Belzec, a few stations from our city, and there it was just crematoriums. You came in and they gassed you. They told you to go to the shower, but the shower had Zyklon gas in it and everybody was killed and later exterminated. Nobody survived. You don’t have one survivor from Belzec. You have survivors from Auschwitz, from Treblinka, because it was also a working camp. But Belzec wasn’t a working camp. It was strictly a death camp, and nobody survived.

Escaping the Death Camp Train

People started to pull out those barbed wires and jumped through those little windows. Even the SS people sat on the rooftop of the train and shot, but everybody took a chance. Whoever could, whoever it was possible to take a chance. Well, my father told us, when the young people started to jump, he said, “You the oldest three”–I was seventeen, and my sister sixteen, my brother fifteen–“You oldest try. Maybe somebody will survive, but we will stay here with the small children, because even if they go out they won’t be able to survive.” So the parents went with the small children. My sister . . . my brother jumped first, my sister second. Then I jumped, and I landed in a ditch of snow. They shot after us. They shot . . . they keep on shooting, but the bullet didn’t hit me. When I didn’t hear anymore the train, I got up. And the first thing I did, I took off my star, and I promised myself never again will I ever wear a star. I went first to look after my sister and brother and found them dead. And I found many corpses . . . many corpses. From that train one of my friends survived, too. She lives in New York. We were two people who survived that train, but many people jumped. Well, after that I survived under an assumed name, and I was caught to work in Germany as a Polish girl. And I worked on a farm, on a German farm, under a false name . . .pretended that I was Catholic and escaped until the end of the war.

The Blessing of the Rabbi

There lived a very Hasidic rabbi. Everybody, you know, they kept him like, like the Pope. And when he blessed somebody, everybody believed in his blessing. Well, he lived in our house for a few months because his house in another city burned. And I was a baby still, and he blessed me. So my father, being religious, he believed, he said if somebody will survive that will be you because you have the rabbi’s blessing. Well, I have to believe in it. I survived. I survived and married. And everybody here probably knows my husband, Mr. Henry the tailor. He has a tailor shop on St. Charles, corner Jackson. We have three daughters. One is a physician, one is a law professor, one has a masters in business. And we have now eight grandchildren. [2]

From Eva’s autobiography

Escape

We knew where we were going. A boy from our town had been deported to Belzec camp. He escaped and came back to our town. He told us that Belzec had a crematorium. Deportation trains from other cities had passed by our city and people had thrown out notes. These notes were picked up by the men forced to work there. The notes said, “Don’t take anything with you, just water.”

They took us to a cattle train. People started to run away from the train, but they were shot. Once on the train we had to stand because there was no room to sit down. A boy tore the barbed wires from the train window. The young people started to jump out of the window. Many jumped. The SS on the rooftop of the train shot at them with rifles. My father told us, the oldest three, “Run, run–maybe you will stay alive. We will stay here with the small children because even if they get out, they will not be able to survive.” To me he said, “You run, I know you will stay alive. You have the Belzer Rebbe’s blessing.” He was very religious and he believed this.

My brother Berele jumped out, then my sister Hannah, and then I jumped out. The SS men shot at us. I landed in a snowbank. The bullets did not hit me. When I did not hear anything anymore, I went back to find my brother and my sister. I found them dead. My brother Berele was 15. My sister Hannah was 16. I was 17.

I took off my star and I promised myself that never again would I ever wear a star. I ran back to the city where we lived. We had a Gentile friend there, a lady to whom we gave a lot of our belongings. She was scared to keep me. Gentile families who were found to be hiding Jews would be killed. She hid me behind a cedar-robe in the corner. I was standing there listening to people come in. They were discussing how they were killing the Jews, how the Jews were running away, who had been shot. It was a small city. They felt sorry for the Jews. It was a sensation, a thing to talk about. They felt sorry but they forgot right away.

Life After the War

There are times when I ask myself, “Where was God when my parents were taken away from me?” When my youngest brother shouted, which I still hear him screaming, I want to live too!” This picture will never, never in my life disappear from my eyes. A lot of times when I lie down, I still hear that voice. He was 3 years old. Even though they were that small, the little children knew what was happening to them. And I ask myself a lot of times, “Where was God? Where is God?” I don’t try to search any deeper because I think without religion it would be harder for me to live.

If you lose your parents at any age, it hurts. To lose your parents in that way, at that age, and to be alone in the world… If you cannot grieve right away, it stays with you for your whole life. You need compassion to be able to talk out your grief. Time is the best doctor. As the days and weeks and years go, it grows weaker and weaker. But you never forget. I tell my students that they should cherish their parents and obey them. A parent is always at your side.

In Poland, after the war I was sick emotionally and physically. I had to go to a doctor to get shots to gain weight. In Sweden I went to a psychiatrist because I could not get over those terrible nightmares. Today I see that when there is a disaster, they send people to a psychiatrist or a psychologist. We had to work out our own problems. As parents we were overprotective to our children. My eldest daughter was accepted at an Ivy League college, but I was afraid to let her go away from home to school. We were afraid to let our children know too much about our past.

I taught Hebrew and prepared children for their Bar Mitzvahs. A friend encouraged me to go to college. In 1985 I graduated from the University of New Orleans. It was my children that made me talk. In the beginning I did not talk to anybody. I did not tell anything. My daughter had to write a paper for school, and she got me to talk. Now, Henry and I go to schools to talk with students about the Holocaust. That is how life goes on. [3]


[1] Galler, Eva. “Portrait of a Survivor: Eva Galler.” Interview by John Menszer. Holocaust Survivors. 1999. Web. 30 Apr. 2011.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Galler, Eva. “Survivor Stories: Eva Galler.” Holocaust Survivors. Web. 30 Apr. 2011.

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