“I feel duty bound to speak on behalf of the many millions of innocent Jewish people who cannot speak for themselves because they were murdered by hate driven individuals during the Holocaust all over Europe.”
– Holocaust survivor Guta Goldstein.
Guta Goldstein is a survivor of the Lodz Ghetto, Auschwitz, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps and the labour camp of Meltheur, from where she was eventually liberated.
Guta was born in Lodz, Poland, to a traditional Jewish family. Although Guta’s mother passed away when she was seven, she describes her childhood as a “normal, happy one” with her father, stepmother and little sister, Munia, and a large extended family with numerous aunts and uncles, grandparents and many cousins.
The outbreak of war
It was just two days before the start of the school year of 1939 when the war broke out; Guta was nine years old. She describes having breakfast – a buttered mackerel-filled roll – when her life changed forever.
“I had no idea what happened when there was a war and no inkling of what was in store for us. In my innocence, I thought that we would all lock ourselves in our homes, pull down the blinds, Father would stay home from work, something like waiting out a storm.”
Anti-Jewish measures were imposed immediately, and soon after, the exclusion of Jewish children from all learning institutions saw “the sun set” on Guta’s school days.
The Lodz Ghetto
When the Jewish population of Lodz was ordered to live in a designated area of the city – The Lodz Ghetto – families, including Guta’s, had to organise accommodation quickly. Guta’s Aunt Golda managed to find a place to live and offered to share it with Guta and her family.
It was a tiny, wooden, self-contained hut, consisting of one room and an annexe. It had no kitchen, bathroom, running water and electricity.
“My aunt with her daughter Inka shared a bed in the annexe. We slept in the room. My little sister Munia and I shared one single bed and my parents the other. We managed to fit a small children’s table and six little children’s chairs in the corner of the room. Our clothes hung on a wall, behind a curtain. A small wood stove stood near the door of the annexe. A kerosene lamp on the table provided a dim light at night.”
Life in the ghetto deteriorated steadily, with a shortage of bread and other food items getting increasingly worse, only to be further spurred by the arrival of winter. Guta’s maternal grandfather died. Out of desperation, wood was taken from anywhere they could find – including the fence and the annexe – to burn on the fire to keep the family warm. Guta’s father died of pneumonia on 19 April 1941.
Aunt Golda sent Guta and her sister to the children’s home of Marysian for orphaned or displaced children on hearing that children received more rations there. Guta’s sister, Munia soon died of Meningitis at eight years old – Guta was 12 years old and was the only one in her immediate family still alive.
Guta’s aunt heard rumours of a planned deportation that included the children within Marysian, and risked her life to rescue Guta from the home; the following day, Guta found out the Germans had surrounded the children’s camp and were taken away by trucks. Her Aunt Golda had saved her life.
In September 1942, Jews in the Lodz Ghetto were rounded up and deported over seven days, which would eventually be known as the “Sperre”.
“It was seven days of terror. Families were forcefully wrenched asunder. Hardly a family was left intact. Everyone was in mourning.”
“My aunt, having rescued me from the children’s transport, was not going to lose me in these selections. She was amazing in her resolve, energy and optimism. She pulled me out every morning before the raids began, through rooftops and attics. We were both exhausted but I did not attend any of the selections. I was saved, yet again.”
In 1944, the Lodz Ghetto was liquidated under Nazi orders, and Guta was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp on 14 August.
Arrival at Auschwitz-Birkenau
“Our senses were attacked simultaneously by the bright sunlight, by the fresh air entering our lungs, by a peculiar smell in our nostrils, and by a horrendous noise assailing us. There was confusion around us. Orders were shouted in quick succession from all directions. “Raus! Raus! Alle raus! Schnell! (‘Leave your things in the wagon! You will get your things later. Don’t bother with your things. You will not need them where you are going. Out! Quickly out!’)”
Guta, Aunt Golda’s daughter Inka and Guta’s cousins Carmela were in shock as with one tilt of the SS officer’s finger, Aunt Golda and Guta’s other cousin Meniek were sent to the left and separated from the girls. Aunt Golda and Meniek were sent to the gas chambers of Birkenau.
“Inka had lost her mother, Carmela her brother, and I, my much-loved aunt and cousin.”
Guta, Inka and Carmela were incarcerated in Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were subjected to long and cruel ‘Appell’ (roll call) for hours every morning, meager food rations, and daily degradation from the SS officers in command. Guta describes people being “pulled out of the lines daily, never to be seen again”.
Guta Inka and Carmela banded together with a girl named Cesia, whom Inka knew from the ghetto, and another woman in the camp, to form a tight-nit group of five. The girls would be support to one another through the toughest times within the camp.
During a selection one day, Guta was almost selected to go to the gas chambers after she lied to the SS guard about her age. Luckily, due to nothing more than the guard’s “good mood”, she escaped selections and was ordered back to her barracks.
Guta would often escape back to her pre-war life and recall every minute in great detail to survive the camp’s atrocious conditions.
Deportation to Bergen-Belsen
Guta was deported to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp towards the end of September 1944 as air raids from allied planes came closer and closer to the Auschwitz camp complex.
Conditions were terrible in the camp; there was no privacy when washing, long roll calls and food rations were small; however, there were no selections. One day Guta found an ordinary door key on the ground. This key would become her “good omen”:
“I put all my hopes and faith for survival in that key. It was my lucky key, my talisman. I had a pocket in the striped coat that I wore, and in it, I kept all my worldly possessions; my makeshift spoon and my lucky key.”
After ten weeks in Bergen-Belsen, Guta, Inka, Carmela and Cesia were selected for work at Meltheur labour camp, where they were eventually liberated by American armed forces in April 1945.
Return to life
Guta spent four and a half years as a displaced person in Europe before migrating to Australia in September 1949.
Guta met her husband and Holocaust survivor Ludek, and the pair had a family of two daughters, seven grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
In 1999, Guta’s memoir There will be a Tomorrow was published by Makor Community Library.
As a guide and educator at the Melbourne Holocaust Museum, Guta’s fervent wish is that “the world will never again have to experience such horrors so that future generations of children and grandchildren will have a chance to live their lives in peace.”