In an aged photograph from 1940, Nesse Galperin, an adolescent Lithuanian girl, is situated on the far left with a bow around her collar, her hands in her lap and a rebellious, boyish haircut contrasting the long, pulled-back hair of her female relatives. This picture is deceiving, however, since it was one of the last moments where her life contained any form of normalcy. Further reinforcing this image for her audience, the woman now known as Nesse Godin, began her lecture by declaring, “I am not a speaker, I am not a lecturer, I am a survivor and I am here with you to share memories.”
On Sept 27, the Center for Holocaust Genocide Studies held a lecture as part of the series Conversations With Witnesses, featuring Nesse Godin, a survivor of four concentration camps, a death march and the Shauliai Ghetto. Nesse holds numerous recognized positions and is involved in many organizations8212;most notably her position as President of the Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Friends of Greater Washington, her outstanding work contributed to her earning an Eli Wiesel Holocaust Medal. She currently serves on the board of the Anti-Defamation League.
Included in the audience were other witnesses to the Holocaust such as Hedy Brasch, a member of the board for Holocaust/ Genocide Studies department, the director Dr. Ann Saltzman, Assistant Director Joshua Kavaloski, professor Jacqueline Berke. A large number of both Jewish seminar and German DIS students were very eager to hear Mrs. Godin’s experiences.
Nesse began her intense and gripping account with an early autobiography. She emphasized the normal family life she was blessed with. She explained how her parents, two brothers and many relatives were quickly taken from her in 1941, that her balance of normalcy would be different forever. At the age of 13 she went into hiding with her family. She and her family experienced a tragic loss on November 5th, 1943 when her father was “selected.” Dire situations and trials of persistence continued for Nesse as she dug trenches for graves, witnessed deaths in her community, endured beatings and the ever- looming possibility of being thrown into the gas chambers.
Nesse Godin expressed her wishes for her Drew University audience. “My primary purpose is that we cannot change what was but we can make a difference every single day that we live. If I get a letter from a student months later telling me how I changed their life, I find my joy,” she said.
Nesse also expressed her strong belief in the importance of her memories of the Holocaust. However, her purpose is not just to share memories. In all her accounts, she was not saved from life-threatening situations by luck, but instead by individuals making conscious decisions to help her. She was saved from separation of her family by a young, educated girl sneaking her an admission form to allow her to enter the ghetto with her family, instructed by a woman to hide from the threat of death in a different line of people and even offered a hiding spot for her bread by a stranger. Her experiences with individuals and their acts of kindness and generosity was the difference between life and death for Nesse, which ultimately solidified her belief that we as students can make small choices with far greater effects than we can imagine.