Dr. Geller addresses Waldorf College about her experiences during the Holocaust. Photo by Sarah Sly.
Holocaust survivor addresses Waldorf College as part of Spring Convocation series
Molly Lumley - Tuesday, March 31, 2009
In a rare opportunity, students and community members witnessed a piece of living history on the evening of Mar. 30 in the form of Elane Geller, one the youngest living Holocaust survivors. Geller shared her experiences and reflections on her time in concentration camps as a child.
The convocation took place in a packed Atrium at Waldorf College, and more chairs had to be added to the skywalk to accommodate the number of people who came to hear Geller speak.
Geller and her family were taken captive by the Nazis in Poland when she was only four years old. She spent time until she was eight in a few concentration camps, but most of her time was spent in Bergen-Belsen until she and 60,000 others there were liberated by the British army on Apr. 14, 1945.
Geller recounted many of her experiences before, during and after her time in Bergen-Belsen. She started by emphasizing how many Jewish people had been targeted for killing--over 11 million--and how about half of them died during the Holocaust. 1.5 million of those were children under the age of 17, along with 5.5 million non-Jews.
Geller said that racism can be reduced by teaching children at a young age that they have the power to act decently towards other people, but she doesn’t believe that it can be completely eliminated.
“I believe that racism and bigotry is as catching as AIDS and any other communicable disease,” Geller said. “I believe that we can reduce it. I do not think for one moment that we’re going to magically wipe it out if we all behave really, really well.”
Geller explained only the Jews were targeted for genocide, and that the word “Holocaust” is a Greek word that means “consumed by fire.”
“That’s all [that’s] left is powder. Only the Jews were targeted for genocide,” said Gellar. “I want you to know that I am aware, really aware of the expectations, there were some good Poles, there were some good Germans, there were some good white Americans that helped and some black Americans smuggling a few out in underground tunnels to freedom. We are grateful; the world is grateful as it should be. Not enough however, to make a difference. We are still grateful to those souls who very often endangered their own lives.”
Geller said the Jews had lived around where she was born for hundreds of years, but despite their attempts to do everything they could to be treated as equals, they were never treated as first-class citizens. She also pointed out that Hitler didn’t start the hatred of Jews, he only added to it.
“We knew that if there was going to be a war, that we would be that yellow canary in the coal mine in the test case. We knew it.”
She said that her father tried to hide her with a Christian family when the war started. He hired someone to tutor her in order for her to know the things that a Christian girl should know so she could blend in with a Christian family in case she would have to stay there during the war. She also had false papers made, such as a birth certificate and baptismal papers in case she had to hide with another family if her’s was captured. She said this kind of arrangement was common during the war, and that surviving Jewish family members were supposed to pick up their children after the war. Some did, others did not.
“So the day came, the day came and the Nazis did come to our town,” Geller said. “First thing they did was to gather the records from City Hall and gather the Jews on their knees in the town square.”
She said that wasn’t her first memory of the Holocaust though, her first memory was of her father dressing her in layers of clothing and removing her earrings so the Nazis couldn’t rip them out of her ears. Her father was going to take her to a house to stay with a Christian family, but as they approached the door, the family inside was handing over a child to the Nazis and claiming they had no idea where the child came from.
“My father saw this betrayal and quickly decided to change his mind. He and I turned around and started to walk towards the center of town to locate and join the rest of the family,” Geller said. “By the time we got there, two of my uncles were already dead.”
She went on to describe how the average food intake of a Holocaust prisoner was only 400 calories a day.
“I didn’t get any food officially. I wasn’t working. I wasn’t counted and my aunt shared her food with me,” Geller said.
She said once she got to Bergen-Belsen, she would talk to some of the women there and learn songs in their native language, practice them and sing them back to the women for food.
Her mother and grandparents were shot into graves that the men had been forced to dig in the center of town. After that, she and her remaining family members were sent to a camp outside of the town.
“The very moment that massacre was over, we were quickly, quickly, moved out of the center of town to a small holding camp not far away,” explained Geller. “The camp was surrounded by electrified barbed wire. We were given armbands with the yellow Star of David on them. That was it, that was the end of our freedom”
Her family was separated after that, and Geller wasn’t sure if she would see any of them again. Her 16 year-old sister was sent to Auschwitz, where she fell victim to the oven soon after arriving. She said that the German economy was failing, and that the with the new concentration and death camps opening, that gave more jobs to the economy.
“People in Auschwitz, and the cities could see the smokestacks of Auschwitz, not unlike 9/11, belching out smoke that smelled of human flesh burning,” Geller said. “And suddenly they had jobs. They were making pillows out of human hair, jewelry out of gold inlays, fertilizer out of the bones.”
Geller remembers doing whatever she could while she was in the camps, just trying to stay alive by finding enough to eat.
“During this five year period, I had typhoid, typhus, tuberculosis,” Geller recalled. “Never, never treated in the so-called ‘infirmary.’ What do you think they’d do with a Jewish child if you brought her to an infirmary? They weren’t going to get me well and then kill me,” Geller said. “I had lice and rats in my hair. I stole, I ate toothpaste, I drank urine. I did, I did whatever was necessary to fill my belly and stay alive.”
Geller hopes the students will have a deeper respect for life after hearing her share personal experiences and memories of the Holocaust.
“The fact is that life is something to be respected,” Geller said. “All the bodies I saw piled around the camp would have traded with any of us for one minute of life. There’s a beginning, a middle and the end to life, and you can be the architect of that.”
Waldorf College President Richard Hanson said in the short amount of time he spent with Geller while she visited Waldorf College helped give him a new perspective on life.
“One of the real significant strengths of Waldorf College is that we gather at regular times like this to explore the deepest and most important elements of the human condition,” Hanson said. “Running into Elane Geller…reminds me that I have indeed found someone who has made a lasting and permanent impact on my life because of the stories she shares and the experiences she’s had and the refreshing life-filled perspective that she has on everyday living.”
Geller’s visit was her fifth to Waldorf College. Last year she was awarded an honorary doctorate for her service. She currently resides in southern Calif.
The Lobbyist is a student-run publication of Waldorf College in Forest City, Iowa.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Elane Geller's Shoah tale - Survived on 400 calories a day, ate toothpaste and drank urine, had rats in hair, fertilizer made from jew bones
Elane claims that the German economy was in trouble, so the Germans opened the concentration and death camps in order to create more jobs. She says "suddenly they had jobs. They were making pillows out of human hair, jewelry out of gold inlays, fertilizer out of the bones."