Holocaust Memorial Ceremony
Trusteeship Council Chamber
27 January 2009
10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Ruth Glasberg Gold, Holocaust Survivor
It is with deep emotion that I stand here on this world stage to tell my story. Thank you for an invitation that honors not only those who are here, but the memory of those who are not. For all Holocaust survivors, this is a moment of ultimate redemption. I still cannot fathom the mysterious coincidence of January 27th being proclaimed by the UN as the International Day of Holocaust Commemoration, and how amazing it was to receive an invitation to testify on this very date. Because it was on January 27th 1942 - exactly 67 years ago - that I was left an orphan alone in the world.
I grew up in Czernowitz, the capital of the province of Bukovina, in northern Romania. There I spent the most memorable years of my short, happy childhood. Back then I was a carefree little girl protected and spoiled by my loving family. I had an older brother, a violin prodigy, whom I worshiped. I loved school; I had many friends and many dreams. But Hitler’s Nazi regime had other plans that brought an abrupt end to my education and my childhood.
I am a child survivor of Transnistria, which is an area between the Dniester and the Boug rivers in Southwestern Ukraine. Hitler gave this territory to fascist Romania, as a reward for its alliance with Germany. My journey into despair started in November, 1941 when I was 11 years old. About 2,000 of us were rounded up by Romanian gendarmes, herded towards the train station and compressed 50 to 80 people into cattle cars. During the next four days of this horrifying journey, some deportees died of suffocation, hunger and thirst. On the fourth day the train stopped and soldiers unbolted the doors. Starving, exhausted and filthy we could barely walk. We were ordered to form a column and were led on a death march through the vast, muddy fields of Transnistria. We were forced to walk about 25 KM a day, and only at night would our escorts allow us to rest, usually in abandoned barns that we shared with corpses of those who were unable to continue. The Romanian soldiers deliberately took us on detours for 2 long weeks to exhaust and further demoralize us. The old, the infirm and children, who could not keep pace, were left along the roadside. The graven image of frozen naked corpses on both sides of the road was the first of my many horror scenes to come.
My Holocaust experience is different from others. I have no tattoo, because I am a survivor of a less organized and methodical plan of annihilation. The Romanian methods were primitive and barbaric, but not less lethal than those of Nazi Germany. They did not bother with tattooing, filming and photographing their inhuman acts. They threw themselves into action without restrain and with such ferocity that appalled even the Germans. The Romanians’ most efficient system was to abandon the people without providing shelter, food, or any of the essential necessities for survival, and to let them die an agonizing, slow death caused by illness, exposure, starvation and despair. In addition to the above, they burned Jews in warehouses, suffocated them in cattle cars, or shot thousands in front of common graves; the victims had to dig themselves.
We need to remember the thousands of victims throughout Romania, killed between 1940-1941 in brutal pogroms and massacres committed under the aegis of Antonescu’s fascist governments. 280,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews as well as 11,000 Roma (Gypsies) fell victims to the Romanian Holocaust. December 1941 was a bitter and oppressive winter. We were worn out by hunger, thirst and the forced marches. My family and I ended up in a camp called Bershad. It was one of the largest and most infamous camps in Transnistria. We found shelter in a small room of a partially demolished house with a dirt floor, without doors or windows. In Bershad there was no electricity, running water or even outhouses. We had to share this room with about 20 other deportees. There I became a helpless witness to the agonizing deaths of my roommates my family included. In three short weeks I lost my father, then my 18-year-old brother and finally my mother. I was left to fend for myself in a hostile, macabre environment; an orphan alone in the world. There was no one to love me unconditionally anymore, no one to care about me.
As the mortality increased, the dead remained piled up against one wall of our room for days, or weeks, until they were picked up by the undertakers. My mother was the last one to die, and her body was left there for two weeks, during which hungry dogs tore at her flesh. When the undertakers finally took the corpses away, they simply dropped them on the frozen grounds of the cemetery. After the death of my family, my life precariously depended on strangers. Thanks to the kindness of some Bershad inmates, I survived. They rescued orphans from barns and alleys, from ruined houses and from among piles of corpses. Tiny people. Children with aged faces. Bundles of silent sorrow. A stark mirror image of myself. Our guardians housed us in one room with a single plank-bed. Boys and girls were packed onto it like sardines. Incidentally, one of those boys, with whom I shared the misery, is with us today. I would like to acknowledge Michael Surkis. Michael could you please stand up?
I am often asked: “How did you survive?” I believe it was the magical power that came prophetically from my mother when she predicted: “Everybody in this room will die. Only you will survive. You must bear witness!” These words kept me alive and preserved my humanity. Above all they enabled me to record without pencil and paper all the details of the horror around me, which I later included in my book titled "Ruth's Journey: A Survivor's Memoir".
After the war I joined a Zionist youth commune and escaped from Communist Romania on a freighter bound for the British Mandate of Palestine. But we were shipwrecked in the Aegean Sea and interred by our British rescuers in a Cyprus refugee camp for a year. Finally we were free to continue our journey. In 1948, the United Nations declared the formation of the State of Israel. I joined in the building of a new kibbutz. (Or “collective farm”) There, in the nourishing soil of my new homeland, I planted my severed roots and the healing process began. I served first as a kibbutz medic, then resumed my disrupted education, and completed my studies to graduate as a HADASSAH registered nurse. I was 14 years old when I gave my first written testimony right after liberation.
Today sixty four years later, I am still testifying, because there are those who dare to deny the horror and reality of the Holocaust, laying a foundation for this kind of inhumanity to be repeated, whether in Cambodia, Bosnia,or Darfur. I am hopeful that the UN in its quest to prevent terrorism and genocide will establish a global education foundation that will reach out to children all over the world. I also hope that the silent majority would become the vocal majority.
I wish to dedicate today’s testimony to the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished in the Holocaust; to the survivors of Transnistria; to all the victims of the Romanian Holocaust, Jews and Roma. I hope their souls will find some comfort in knowing that what happened to them and their loved ones will never be forgotten. I also dedicate it to the 21 thousand righteous gentiles, in particular to Dr. Traian Popovici, the mayor of Czernowitz, whose courage saved 19,600 Jews from deportation. We, the child survivors, are the last witnesses to the most tragic chapter in history. We returned from the abyss of human misery and survived to speak the unspeakable.
By telling our stories, by teaching about the Holocaust and writing our memoirs, we force ourselves to recall the painful past in order to assure future generations of children an innocent and happy childhood free of menacing violence. Now we want to be assured that our efforts were not in vain. We want to live out our lives secure in the knowledge that these inhumanities will never happen again - not because there are laws which say they are wrong, but because PEOPLE say so. It is people who should admonish one another with the biblical command Zachor, Remember! Thank you.
The views expressed by private individuals do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations.