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Philip Gans and Angelica Gans oral history interview
h [electronic resource] /
interviewed by Dr. Carolyn Ellis.
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida Tampa Library,
1 sound file (180 min.) :
digital, MPEG4 file +
e 1 transcript (66 p.)
Holocaust survivors oral history project
Interview conducted April 9, 2009.
This is an oral history interview with Holocaust survivor Philip Gans. Gans was born in the Netherlands in 1928 and lived with his family in Amsterdam until 1942, when his father received a notice of deportation. The family went into hiding and Gans was separated from his parents and siblings for a year. In 1943, when Gans was fifteen, his family was captured by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where most of them died. Gans was a prisoner at Auschwitz for two years, until it was closed in 1945; after that he was moved to several different camps, ending up at Flossenbrg, where he stayed until it was liberated in April 1945. Gans describes his experiences in hiding, as a prisoner at Auschwitz and other camps, on the death marches from one camp to another, and after liberation. At the end of the interview, his wife Angelica Gans joins the conversation. They describe how they met and got married in 1978. In 1992 Gans began seeing a psychiatrist to discuss his experiences in the Holocaust; he and Mrs. Gans describe the effect that counseling has had on his emotional state.
Auschwitz (Concentration camp)
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
v Personal narratives.
Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)
Holocaust survivors' families.
Crimes against humanity.
Florida Holocaust Museum.
University of South Florida Libraries.
Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center.
University of South Florida.
Special & Digital Collections.
Oral History Program.
Holocaust & genocide studies oral history projects.
Holocaust survivors oral history project.
y USF ONLINE ACCESS
xml version 1.0 encoding UTF-8 transcript
text Dr. Carolyn Ellis: This is April 9, 2009. I ammy name is Carolyn Ellis, and I am interviewing Holocaust survivor Mr. Philip Gans. We are in Clearwater, Florida, in the United States; the language we are using is English; and we have two videographers, Jane Duncan and Nafa Fa'alogo. Okay, Mr. Gans, could you read that?
Philip Gans: Sure.
CE: Im going to call you Phil.
CE: Phil, could you read that into the camera?
PG: I, Philip Gans, acknowledge and agree that my oral testimony may be used by the Florida Holocaust Museum for all standard museum purposes. The museum may use this interview, including my name, photograph, videotaped image, and related written materials.
CE: Okay, thank you.
PG: Youre welcome.
CE: Phil, lets start with yourjust telling us your name and spelling it for us, if you could?
PG: My name is Philip L. Gans. Philip, P-h-i-l-i-p; middle initial L., stands for Louis; and last name Gans, G-a-n-s.
CE: Okay, and did you have a nickname as a child?
PG: Yes. My brother could not pronounce Philiphe was two years olderand he wound up calling me Ip. So everybody called me Ip, or sometimes Ippy, I-p-p-y.
CE: Okay, and what is your date of birth? When were you born?
PG: Twenty-two January, 1928.
CE: And what is your current age?
PG: ooheighty-one years.
CE: Okay, and what is the city and country of your birth?
PG: I was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
CE: Okay, and then could you tell us the name of your father?
PG: My fathers name was Levie, L-e-v-i-e, Gans.
CE: And your mothers name?
PG: Lea, L-e-a, Gans; her maiden name, de Beer.
CE: Could you spell de Beer for us?
PG: Small-d-e capital-B-e-e-r.
CE: And then the name of your siblings?
PG: My brother, who was two years older, was Benjamin Herman Gans, and my sister was Rebecca Gans.
CE: Okay, and did anyone else live in your house before the war?
PG: Occasionally Grandmom, my mothers mother, used to stay with us. She had another daughter in Paris, but when the war broke out, unfortunately, she was in Holland, so she stayed with us. Had she been with her other daughter in Paris, they would have fled and wound up in Jamaica and finally in Aruba. But she stayed with us andthe rest youll hear later. (laughs)
CE: Okay, and what was her name? Your grandmothers name?
PG: Sara de Beer de Vries, d-e V-r-i-e-s. That was her maiden name.
CE: Okay, and then could you just tell us quickly the professions of your father and your mother?
PG: Well, my father was a businessman. We were in the ladies fashion business. We had girls working for us, sewing machines, ironing, cutting. My mom had a degree in of something likewhat was that called?well, economics
CE: Home economics?
PG: Home economics. She never used her profession as a teacher, but she used it in our business, designing different blouses and collars for the ladies wear. She worked in our business.
CE: Now, what I would like is just to start with your childhoodand this is all informaland just tell us a little bit about your childhood, what it was like.
PG: Well, I remember having to go to kindergarten, and I hated it. They had to drag me and I was screaming and so, but I had to go anyway. I remember we had a cat, and I tortured it so much that it really clawed me, right here in my face somewhere. I still have the scar. I remember my sister knitting, sitting on thewe called it the divan; its like a couchand she dropped a stitch and she told me to find it. I looked all over the place. (both laugh) I couldnt find the stitch.
My moms sister was funny; she worked in the business after she graduated from school. We had a boy working for us that did all the running around, and she sent him out to get mosquito netting, without holes. He went to all the stores and he came back and he said Nobody has mosquito netting without holes. (both laugh) Poor kid, he went all over the place.
I went to school, not too far; we had to walk. I remember meeting the teacher sometimes, and we walked to school together. And it was a very small school in Amsterdam, right across from the Jewish invalid home, on Weesperplein. We played games. We had school from, I believe, nine to twelve and two to four; we went home during lunch hour.
I ate a lot of sugar. When the war broke out and things were rationed I got my moms sugar and my sisters sugar, because there wasnt enough sugar for me. I would put sugar in anything. Even today, if I have sauerkraut with mashed potatoes, I love to have a little bit of sugar on top of that. I think Jewish people do cook with a lot of sugar.
Grandma did a lot of cooking, even though we had a maid, and I remember Mom coming down during lunch hour. And we ate raw hamburger, and you had little meatballs, real tiny ones that wed put in the noodle soup and we ate them raw. And still today I eat raw meat, and people think Im crazy, but in Holland you can go in the delicatessen and they have all kind of meats and then a bowl with raw hamburger. They take two halves of a bun, dip them in the onions, and then you put the raw hamburger on top of it, and if you want it special you get a hardboiled egg sliced on it.
I remember playing with my brother. We had a dog. My brother and I got along good. I used to make breakfast every morning. We never trusted the maid to make breakfast; we made our own breakfast. Yeah
CE: What was a day like for you? Did you help in your fathers store ever, or were you
PG: Yeah, sometimes we had to make buttons, and we had a special machine that would make round material and a little machinethe two parts to the button, you put half of it on top of the cloth and then the thing bend it over and the other part would go down and you pull the handle, and push that down. And one time I did have to do something and I used a razor blade, and I cut my finger so bad that I kept screaming to my mother and bleeding and I blamed it on something elseI was lying, I did use a razor blade. (laughs)
CE: Okay, tell me what it was like to be Jewish at that point in time.
PG: At that point, no. I dont think we had any problem, no. Matter of fact, this is howI remember very clearly having a friend at the house, and he asked me if I was Jewish, and I told him, I dont know.
PG: Yeah, honestly, I remember that so clearly. He asked me if I was Jewish, and I said, I dont know.
CE: So it wasnt an important part of your identity at that point?
PG: I mean, that was in the early ages.
PG: And I was so bad that one year I didnt get anything for St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas Eve, the night before the saints feast day on December 6.
. We dont celebrate Christmas, we celebrate St. Nicholas, the fifth of December, and I didnt get anything, no present. I was so disappointed and I thought, Well, theyll come later, and I waited and I hoped and I never got anything as punishment.
CE: How would you describe your parents?
PG: My parents?
CE: Yeah, what kind of people were they?
PG: I would say they were nice, not because thats what every child says about their parents, but Dad was strict. But I remember sitting on Moms lap while she was crocheting and reading at the same time. Or knitting and reading; she was very good at that. Sitting on her lap was good. We had a nice family relationship.
CE: So you were close to your parents?
CE: And to your siblings? What was your?
PG: Yeah, like I said, my brother and I got along very well.
CE: And your sister?
PG: Yeah, well, she was five years older; my brother was only two years older.
CE: So you would describe this time in your life as happy, would you?
PG: I would think so, yeah.
CE: So any other stories you remember from your childhood, that you would?
PG: We had a dog, and of course in those days there was no central heating, so we only had heating in the living room. And in the front of the living room was really a sitting roomthe living room was originally the dining room. And in the front of that, with French doors, was our sitting room, but that was turned into an office. And in our dining room, which became our living room, we only had a fireplace. That was the only heat in the house. And I remember Mom sitting in one chair and Dad in the other and the table in front and my dad sitting there with his legs crossed reading the paper, and the dog came and peed on his leg. (both laugh) He was so mad. Ill never forget that.
I was scared of the dark, and when I had to go and get coal downstairs I was petrified, because people that delivered the coal would go through the cellar and a little bit through the yard and then in a shed underneathwell, part of the building, underneath the kitchen. And the staircase goes right down next to the kitchen to the place where the coal was, and I was scared stiff, even going to bed at night. And when I had to wash the fruitthere was the maid; later on we had a butler whod do it, but if it was his day off and I had to take fruit, take it to the kitchen to wash it, I always had to whistle, so they knew I wouldnt be eating it. (laughs)
And Grandma used to bake ginger-butter cake; its real thin, made out of sugar, and butter and ginger, very rich. And we would sneak it, but Mom had in mind shed put them in there and she knew there was one missing, so later on they put a key in the cabinet, but somehow I found the key. Oh, I was a devil when I was a kid. I wasthere was a friend of mine that lives about five minutes from here, Sam Schryver, and he always tells my wife, he says, Phil was terrible when he was a kid.
CE: So he knew you as a kid.
PG: Oh, yeah, he lived across the street from me.
CE: Okay. And how do you spell his last name?
PG: S-c-h-r-y-v-e-r. Im sure you are going to interview him if you do it before May the second, because hes leaving for Canada.
CE: Will he be back?
PG: Oh, yeah, every six months he comes back.
CE: Okay. I would like to have his name and phone number.
PG: Oh, hesnow he ishe was a salesman all his life. He is a talker.
PG: He does better than I, even though my story in my mind is much more important and better than his story. But he is the perfect talker. Schools always look for him because he has this way about it, you know, but thats salesmen, and I tell him that. Sam, youre a super salesman.
CE: Okay, so yougoing back to your childhood. Would you describe your family as pretty well off financially?
PG: Oh, yeah. We had a car in 1939, 1940. And Sam always says, Yeah, you people were, you know, well off.
CE: Okay, and could you talk a little bit about your religious life during that time?
PG: Yeah, I wentI think it was See, we went to school Monday, Tuesday, full day; Wednesday, half a day. Then Thursday and Friday and every Wednesday afternoon I went to the Jonnas Donel Meierplan right across from theI think it was Portuguese church, Portuguese synagogueI went to the synagogue there and had my Jewish lessons. But again, when I went bar mitzvah I had to learn all this recital, and I could never remember. I never made it, so the rabbi did it for me.
CE: Okay. But your parents did send you to
PG: Oh, yeah, I went to Hebrew school.
CE: Okay. Now talk a little bit about your parents and your grandmother and religion.
PG: Well, Grandmom and Grandpop, before he died, they were very religious. They lived in Brissiom, ten, fifteen kilometers outside of Amsterdam, had a three story building there. And I think at that time we didnt really (inaudible) after he passed away, but we always had a girl across the street come to turn on the lights on Friday night and turn them off. Well, we probably turn them on before the Sabbath, but then the girl came and turned them off.
Yeah, they were very religious. Everything kosher, and like I said, very religious. Especially my grandfather, but he died at an early age. I dont remember how old I was, but I was very young when he died. And then Grandma stayed there but rented out the first two floorsfor a while only the first floor, the downstairs, cause I remember when my aunt from Paris would come, theyll be on the second floor. And then on the third floor we had two bedrooms, a front little room and a biglike an attic, a big area there. We used to live there.
CE: So would it be true, you think, to say that religion was very important to your family, more important than Jewish identity? What would you say about religion and Jewish identity?
PG: Well, for my grandparents, yes. My parents, like I said, we did everything according to the Jewish religion as far as table was concerned, the linens for dairy products, for meat products, dishes, dairy products, meat products. But on the other hand, we were in business and we had girls working on the Saturday, and money was exchanged. In that part, we were not too religious. My grandparents were, yeah; they were.
CE: But you didnt getyou didnt seem totell me what you think of about this. You didnt seem to have a real sense of being Jewish, or that didnt seem to be something that was being emphasized
PG: No, I dont think so.
CE: in your life at that point.
PG: Yeah, well, like I said, as a kid I remember a boy asking me if I was Jewish and I said, I dont know, but I was very young. But later on we knew very well we were Jewish. I went to Hebrew school and the school I went to where a lot of Jewish children [also attended], and weFriday afternoon we used to get out of school early while the other students still stayed.
CE: Okay, so this is a pretty good life that you are describing to me. Can you remember at what point that got disrupted?
PG: Yeah, life was very good until May the tenth well, actually, I was a bad boy, and they send me to a boarding houseboarding school, house, cause the guy that wants to write a book about me, he asked me the name of the school. Well, it was an individual house, row homes in Scheveningen, and husband and wife run it. There werent too many children there. And that was in 1939. I went to the sixth grade there. And so I was not at home with the family.
CE: How far away from home was this?
PG: The Hague and ScheveningenThe Hague and HollAmsterdam? I dont know.
CE: Yeah, its aboutits an hour or so, right?
PG: Thats it, roughly.
CE: One train, I think.
PG: So I dont know what the family was. When the war broke out on May tenth, I was in Scheveningen. There were bombardments, and I can still see from the housewe slept on the second floorthe parachuting. The Germans parachuted outside of Scheveningen, and anti-aircraft guns shot down many German planes. We went to look at them on the beach.
CE: But you still were in the boarding school at this point?
PG: Oh, yeah. Im at the boarding school for Id say close to two years, all of sixth to seventh grade. And when the war waswell, there was bombardments. I remember one night, next thing I knew, I was on the floor because there was a big bomb had fell in the middle of the street. Maybe three, four, five houses from where we lived. No houses were damaged. There was a big crater in the ground and it threw me out of bed, and everything wassirens went and we went downstairs with a pillow over our head. But the buildings were never damaged where we lived.
And finally, fifteenth of May , when Holland surrendered to Germany
The order for surrender was given on May 14 and the last skirmish was on May 16, 1940.
. The Germans walked through the streets, and they looked like normal people to me. I didnt realize that it was bad, but my parents and the elders, they were worried because they didnt like the Germans and they didnt think it was good. But to me, they looked like normal people.
CE: Do you know why they didnt like the Germans?
PG: I dont know exactly the reason. But I remember having German toysand they had fantastic toysand Dad wouldnt buy them anymore. I had a little car that I had pulled the rear bumper out and it went backwards; go into the garage, the doors would close from the garage, and because it hit the back of the garage the bumper would go back in; and if you took the telephone or something else, the doors open and the car would come out again. I mean Schuco, S-c-h-u-c-o, was the name, and my dad wouldnt buy them anymore. They would not buy German items. We used to have a German maid, and finally Hitler called all the German girls back and thats when we had to get a butler, a Dutchman.
CE: Okay. So youre in school and there is some bombing, and then what happened?
PG: Well, I sometimes feel guilty because we hadMom and Dad had the money, but there was no transportation; you couldnt go back and forthbecause I think if I had been in Amsterdam, we might have wound up in England. I think my dad would have fled. But I wasnt there, and Im sure they did not [want to] leave without me.
I came back to Amsterdam in summer of forty-one , went to school from forty-one  to forty-two  but could not go to a regular school. I had to go to a school for all Jewish children. I went there from forty-one  to forty-two .
CE: And that was high school, now?
PG: Yeah, and thatsactually, its a five year schooling called HBS. And in Scheveningen one time, already Jews were not allowed in the beach. We went to the beach anyway; it was one block from the beach where we livedit was very niceand got into an argument and got into a fight and the boy called me a dirty Jew. He lived in the same boarding house that I lived was, and I told and he got punished.
They were very, very strict. I had to eat everything. I didnt like spinach, I didnt like endive, and they let me sit in a room until I ate it all and
CE: Was the school run by Jewish people?
PG: No, I dont think they were Jewish, just a husband and wife. I saw the man after the war, but I have no clue his name. But I used to takefinally I got a bright idea. I took my spinach and put it in my handkerchief, put it in my pocket. Im finished. They come and look. Okay, you can go now. I go to the bathroom and flush it down. They caught me sooner or later. (laughs) My parents were not allowed to come on the weekend.
CE: Because you had done this?
PG: Yeah, because I had done that. Oh, yeah, I was the devil.
CE: (laughs) So then what happened in terms of having your life disrupted?
PG: Well, I went to the Jewish school for one year, and
CE: And youre living at home then?
PG: Im living at home, yeah, 1941 to forty-two .
CE: So your parents could have fled at that point, right?
PG: No, thenat that time wasno.
CE: Too late?
PG: Yeah, because even the people I was hiding withthey had at that time a lot of people at their house, eight, nine people that was supposed to go. But what happened, the people took their money and they took their suitcases and everything, they say, Its not safe to go now. Next day: No, its not safe; the Germans are patrolling the waters. And finally, it turned out to be a gimmick. They just took the money, and then because it was very hard in those days, you know, after a year after the war
CE: But your parents didnt try to leave at that point?
CE: Do you remember having discussions about it at all?
PG: No. I went to school. I remember a Jewish boy that lived down the street, we went together, and then he didnt come down and Im looking up and talking to him and I walked into a telephone pole. And I still have a bump hereI can still feel it; its right hereand I hit myself, bleeding. And I looked the boy up and I have a book, In Memoriam: 104,000 People from Holland that Perished in the Holocaust, and his name is in there, Abram Springer. And his birth is 1928, cause there was many others [named] Abram Springer, but they were different. Was it you that said that? No, the girl inthe lady in Iowa said that her parents or grandparents name was Springer; it was a coincidence. I looked him up and all the other Abrams were born in either twenty-six  or twenty-five  or 1800 something, I mean, so I knew it was him. He perished in Auschwitz. But thats the only boy I can remember from before the war.
CE: Okay, so then what happened?
PG: Then in the summer of 1942, there was the Razia; that meant that the Nazis went from house to house taking the people out of their home. And I remember across the street from me (clock chimes) 124you want me to stop them?
CE: No, thats okay.
PG: One twenty four; it was next to the unemployment office. Next to that was the back of the music school, to which I had registered but never went there. Im always planning to go there and says, See, Im sorry I didnt make it. Shall I unregister now, sixty-five years later? And to the left of to the building was the school, and I can still see them taking the people out of their home. Then they came across the street to our house, and we had the signs, Mode Industrie Baantjeyeah, it wasyeah, Mode Industrie Baantje. Baantje comes after the Mode Industrie. And they passed us by. We were fortunate, because I dont think I could have lasted thirty-three months. Twenty-one months was long enough.
CE: So why did they not bother a business? Because they wanted the business to keep going?
PG: No, theythey took people out of the home, and they figured this is a place of business, that theres no people living here.
CE: But why didnt they come to your home?
PG: That was our home.
CE: So you lived with theokay.
PG: We lived there, oh, yeah. It was a basement and a three-story building. Yeah, we had the first floor, we had the front room, which was the office, then we had the room behind that was the dining room, which became our living room, and the hallway went all the way back to the kitchen.
CE: Do you remember how that felthow you felt at that time?
PG: Well, I was scared, because you know, we werent allowed to have anything. We werent allowed to have radio, so my dad bought a big music box with big records in those days, and it is all automatic and you know. First we had a little one, which you wind up like this with one record, but then he bought this because we werent allowed a radio. And so it was scary. They made you scared of the Germans, because they know more than I did.
CE: Your parents, you mean?
PG: Yeah, sure. And I remember in thirty-nine  when Germany invaded Poland that my grandmother said, Far from my bed. Because in those days those distances were very far from Amsterdam, from Holland to Poland, and she says, Far from my bed, never figuring that Holland was going to be next. You know, this was thirty-nine , and then May forty , it was Holland. Â So I was scared that they passed us by.
And I remember one of the girls that worked for usthey were Christian peoplethey had brought tomatoes, and I used to eat tomatoes with sugar on top of it. I loved it. I still do that. Although lately, since I have problems with my hand and its either carpal tunnel or sugar, Im eating tomatoes just as they are. I love tomatoes, but I dont put the sugar on any more, but I used to. I remember that so well, being in the living room and eating those tomatoes with sugar. Now
CE: So they were taking people out of their homes. Could you describe what that looked like, when they were taking people out of their homes?
PG: Well, yeah, it was scary. They knocked on the door and the people opened the door, and then they brought them out and they marched them down the street toI think it was Weesperplein where the Joodse Invalide [Jewish Hospital and Home] Im sure that youthe diamond exchange is one side and theres two little parks there, and they gathered them together there. And what they did with them, I dont know. But you know, I know now they took them to Westerbork.
CE: What did you think then? Do you remember what you thought then?
PG: Well, they passed us by, so we were happy. But that same year, 1942, Dad received notice to report to Germany. He got a sheet of paper, what all to bring, but he had no intention of going, so we had to go in hiding. So a lady dressed as a nunIm sure she was not a nun, but she was dressed as a nun. And I do know that she had a pill that if she ever got caught she said shed take that pill to kill herself.
PG: And she took me to the northern part of Holland into hiding. And thats the last I saw my parents, because I was all by myself.
CE: So why did they take you by yourself? Do you know?
PG: Well, it is tough to find a hiding place for a family of six, you know; its very risky. And one boy with a farmer in farm country in the northern part of Holland, not many military there, never had any problem. I helped the farmer. And I tell the students that Anne Frank was hiding and never got out of the house, and there I had freedom. I helped the farmer, digging up potatoes, pulling bean bushes out the ground, hanging them in the loft to dry, and then shake them out. I remember he taught me how to use a sickle, I think its called, to cut the hay, and we let it dry and keep moving it so the sun would dry it. And he had beehives, and his son had a sailboat. We used to go sailing. It was nice there, I had it really good; the people were very nice.
And I remember there againoh, we made our own sauerkraut. Cut up cabbage and I think put salt on it and a piece of wood, and then a stone on top of that. But downstairs we had this centrifugalwhats it called, a centrifuge? You put the beehives, theI dont know what they were called there in the beehives. Its a slat where the bees build up their honey. We scrape off the wax, put them in the centrifuge, and then I had to turn. And the faster I go, the more honey come out, and it drip down underneath the bowl, and I remember when they werent around or whatever going down and getting pieces of wax with the honey on it and chewing on it.
And there is something that very few people know: on a farm, we wore socks with a leather sole. Then you go outside and put those wooden shoes on. When you come back you take your wooden shoes off, leave them in the little vestibule in the back of the house, and then you walk in the house on your socks because they have leather soles on the bottom, you know?
And I remember they made potatoes, scraped them and used thesifted it, and used the powder to thicken oatmeal or cream of wheat, because there wasnt enough food. Well water, you had a pump; there was no running water in the house. You had to pump.
CE: How long were you on the farm?
PG: Not too long, not too long. Unfortunately, not too long, because on a Friday afternoon, a man on a bicycle came from the capital of the little state and said to the farmer, You better get rid of Phil.
And the farmer said, Why?
And the man on the bicycle said, His sister walked out the back door as the Nazis walked in the front door. She was in Leeuwarden, which is the capital of Friesland, and I was in Oenkerk, a little town.
And so the next day, Saturday morning, he took me to Amsterdam, not knowing what to do with me, a fifteen-year-old kid. He took me to a Jewish orphanage. Well, it was Saturday, and they wouldnt do business. Very fortunate, because all Jewish orphanages were emptied and the kids were taken to camps, gassed and cremated. So I was very lucky. Then I remembered one of the girls working for us; we went to her and she knew where Mom and Dad were hiding in The Hague.
CE: So you had not had any contact with them during this time?
PG: No. No, because you know, like I said, I was a bad person, and they thought, too, that. When westill at homeI remember Dad and my brother in the backyard doing something with shovels, but they never told me what. After the war, when I came home in late forty-five , I went to the house, asked if I could dig up in the backyard. Well, sure. And I dug and I didnt find anything, but the person that I was staying with, she said, You better fill up that hole, a couple weeks later.
So as I fill up the hole, a brick fell off the shovel and made noise. It was a little metal box. It wasin there was a watch and some diamond rings and gold coins and chains, various things that my parentmy dad and brotherhad buried, knowing that some day they are going to come back and dig it up, not knowing that they would ever come back. Nobody had that idea. We were always told, Youre being relocated to work in Germany so the Germans could go fight in the front. So I remember that part.
CE: So come back to theso you are on the farm and they movethey go to the orphanage
PG: Right, and then I went to The Hague.
CE: They took you to The Hague?
PG: My sister came the next day. Now theres four of us in the house. The woman didnt want that many people, too risky. I had a cold and Im coughing, so she gave me a glass of sugar water, and said, Any time you feel an itch in your throat, drink sugar water, because I wantI dont want the neighbors to know I have somebody in the house.
CE: So, its you and your sister at that point?
CE: Is that all?
PG: And my parents.
CE: Your parentsso your parents came there, too?
PG: No, they were there before I got there.
CE: Oh, so you went to where your parents were.
PG: The girl that worked for us knew where my parents were, and she told me and then I went there. And I guess my sister must have called one of the girls working for us, and then she came the next day. Then they sent me to another place, to Santpoort, S-a-n-t-p-o-o-r-t; today its called Bloemendaal.
PG: They incorporated it.
CE: So before you go to Santpoortso its interesting to me, the networks of how these people who helped you and how they communicated with each other and got you
PG: Thats all underground. Now, Sam can tell you a lot about that, because he never got farther than Westerbork, but he worked for the underground.
CE: Oh, he did! Okay.
PG: Yeah, he was an underground worker.
CE: Okay, all right. So the underground seemed to be really big in Amsterdamin the Netherlands.
PG: Yeah, the kids dont understand. They think youre underground, but you know, its just a secret organization. And the people I went with, they were very involved in the (inaudible)she was very involved.
CE: And these were all Dutch people?
PG: Oh, yeah, all Dutch Christian people. Now the lady with the nun that took me out of the house, I have no clue. She might have been Jewish; she might have been a Christian person. And like I said, she was dressed as a nun, but I dont think she was a nun.
CE: Now at this point the Jews had to wear the Jewish star, right
CE: if they went out?
PG: Of course, we didnt wear the star because we didnt want them to know that we were in hiding.
CE: Because you were in hiding.
PG: And its a funny thing, after the war
CE: But you did wear the star before you went into hiding?
CE: Okay. Just sotell me about that experience of having the starwhat did that?
PG: You know, its humiliating; everybody you know youre Jewish andits uncomfortable. Yeah, and from The Hague, I went to the little town of Santpoort, and those people were just wonderful. They were the nicest people. Now, the people in The Hague, Im sure they did it for money.
CE: The people who were on the farm?
PG: No, the farm
CE: No, they didnt do it
PG: I dont know if they got paid or what, cause it was always better food on the farm thenwe had plenty of potatoes and beans and stuff like that. But the people in The Hague, they wereIm sure they did it for money.
PG: But the people in Santpoort, now, they were very, very nice. It was a husband, wife, and two daughters. And according to the girl, my sister had been there, my brother had been there, and when I was thereI was not there with my brother; my brother had already gone. There were three other people in the house. The Jewish boy had no information on mother and daughter, and I want to see if I can get more information from them. I knew their names because I have their ID cards. I know their names and when they were born and where they lived in Amsterdam, right around the corner from us. I want to try to get more information through the newly released papers from Germany.
CE: Now let me go back for just a second, because you started to say something a while ago. You saidwhen I askedwhen you were talking about being alone and you said, Well, I was a bad person, and you were about to say more about that, and I just wondered what you were going to say.
PG: Say that again?
CE: When you were talking about being
PG: A bad
CE: Being by yourself on the farm, and you said, Well, I was a bad person. Because I asked something about why you were alonewhy you went alone.
PG: Well, I went alone for the simple reason that my sister went alone.
PG: She was in the capital of Friesland, because it was too risky to take too many people. Â But I was a bad boy because I would sneak and steal honey
CE: Oh, so thats why you were a bad person!
PG: Yeah, you know. I would do things like that, and
CE: Okay, all right, so that was all that you were saying. I wasnt sure if you were trying to connect beingyou went alone because you were a bad person.
PG: No, no.
CE: Because they thought you were going to get in trouble.
PG: Like I said, my sister went alone.
PG: My brother was alone, because it was too risky.
CE: Okay, so now lets go back to Santpoort, then.
PG: The family with the two daughters, like I said, they were wonderful. There were three other people in the house, [including the] Jewish boy. I have no information.
CE: Were they in hiding, too?
CE: Yeah, okay.
PG: And mother and daughtershe ran a bakery around the corner from us, and we knew her very well. Beautiful daughter. And
CE: So you had known them before you went to stay with them?
PG: Before I went to hiding there, yeah.
CE: And could you go outside the house at all there?
PG: I tell the students that I dont go out the house, so no school. Whoopee! No school. But my parents thought I should learn something, and by mail they send me homework. Well, they got a teacher who by mail sends me homework and I faithfully do it, till one day I found out my brother, who was very smart, was the one giving me the homework. (laughs) I said, The heck with it! and never did that again. I never did it again.
CE: Okay, and how long were you there?
PG: I was there a long time.
CE: A long time, about how long?
PG: Um, I would say at least eight months.
CE: Eight months.
PG: At least. Eight, nine months.
CE: Did you have the run of the house at that time?
PG: Oh, yeah.
CE: So you could movedid they keep the curtains closed or?
PG: We could move around the house. It was a three-story building, was just husband, wife and the fourtwo daughtersand the four of us.
Now, I tell the students everything is rationed and I show my ration card, and I got a cupan original onehere, and they needed a little coupon to get a loaf of bread. Gas was also rationed. The old man on Friday nights would take the gas meter out and put an inner-tube from a bicycle between the two pipesvery dangerous, because a little leak and you wont wake up the next morning. But he did for probably two, three years and he never got caught, cause he needed a special coin to put in the gas meter to get it running. And then she cooked all weekend for eight people.
And, like I said, they were wonderful people. I got themafter the war I got them a certificate from Yad Vashem
Yad Vashem is Israels official memorial to Jewish Holocaust victims.
from Israel, for all the help for many Jewish people. And to show you howI dont know if you call it immature or dumb, but one day she said, I want to make a shirt for my husband; his birthday is in December. So she took measurements of my arm, my neck, my waist, and everything and my birthdayand in December, he got a shirt. Now, my birthday is in January. I got a shirt also.
PG: She made one for me. But how stupid for me to not realize. Shes got plenty of his shirts in the closet, why does she need measurements from me? (laughs) You know what I mean? Unbelievable. It was years and years later that I realized how dumb I was to tell herI forgot her name, but Conen was the last nameYouve got shirts of your husbands in the closet. But the nice part was everything was rationed, so where did she get the material from, and all this stuff. So it was very appreciated.
And also, I show the students toothpaste. You buy a new tube of toothpaste, you had to turn in the old tube because they were made of tin lead, and Germany needed the lead for the war effort. And I tell the students and thats what they always say: We like your presentation, because there was humor in it. You take the lead and roll it up, it stays rolled up; but today you have the plastic, you roll it up and it rolls back again, and they laugh, you know.
And lets see, what else happened there? When my brother was there, there was a knock on the door one night at eleven oclock, after curfew. They were scared. They quick put my brother on the back porch, closed the doors, put the curtains, closed the curtains, put the big table in front of it, made his bed, went downstairs. There was two girls, husband and wife, so everybody did something; it didnt take too much time. Went downstairs and sure enough the Nazis were there and they searched the whole house. But they even put the curtains aside, the girl tells me, and look, they didnt see him.
CE: Wow! And where were you?
PG: I wasnt there yet; that was before I got there.
CE: Oh, that was before you got there.
PG: Before I got there.
CE: Oh, and then they still hid people after that.
PG: Oh, yeah, theyshe was very involved. He was a soccer player and he wasnt doing well, but she was very involved.
CE: So you remember that time as happy? Being in that house?
PG: Yeah, because they were so nice. I mean, I learn different foods, (inaudible), beef with onions, and I loved it. And there was something else they made. And even when I go to Holland now, I still go visit the girl. The husband, her mother and father, died in the sixties [1960s], her sister died in 2000, and shes still alive. Shes eighty-six years old; shell be eighty-seven in June. And every August I go to Holland, for the last ten, twelve years, and I call her twice a week. Matter of fact, I talked to her this morning and I told her I had this interview, and she wished me luck. And shes very nice. She had polio as a child and walks very badyou know, limpsbut shes a wonderful person.
They were very poor people. They were really working people, working class people, and when they were awarded that award from Yad Vashem, I gave both her and her sisterwell, her and her husband, the sister and her husbanda checkI think it was made out in Dutch guildersat that time for, you know, showing some good will. And still going back every year, cause I have no family in Holland. I have no reason to go to Holland, other than her. And I still do that to show my appreciation, and they really appreciate it, the children really appreciate it. She has grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
Theyre a very, very nice family. And I asked the girlher name is Audreywhy was I moved? They moved me to another little town where my mother, father, brother, sister and grandmother were hiding. She says, Mom wanted you because you were the only one missing. She wanted the family complete. So in around June forty-five no, Im sorry, forty-three , cause forty-three  to forty-five  I was in campin June forty-three  they moved me over there, and I have pictures of the house.
CE: Is that Baarn?
PG: Baarn, right. And its so funny. I didnt remember the address. So the teacher, the math and English teacher I had in Aruba, he was from Baarn. And one day, a Dutch family here had company from Holland. And, hey, Phil come on over. I have some Dutch people here. And I went over there and we got to talking, and his children werehis boy was a very good friend of my English teacher in Aruba, his son; they were very good friends. So we go to talking about them and I asked for his address for the teacher, and the man gave it to me.
And then I wrote that man who wrote that man, the teacherHoochstra was his name could you find out where I was hiding during the war? And he wrote me back and says Phil, dont you remember I was in Aruba during the war? See again, dumb. He said, But Ive asked my sons friends parents to do it.
Now, this guy went to thetheres a registry in Holland where everybodys registered; went to the police bureau there. That was dumb, too, because we were in hiding. We werent registered. Nobody knew where we were. So I told him put an ad in the paper, and they didnt put an ad in the paper, but on the front page they say a Jewish boy is looking for aby the name of Philip Gans where he was hiding in 1943 in Baarn. And they put a phone number there and by five oclock the phone rang and two people calledtwo or three because they knew me. They were people who were living two, three houses down the street. They used to come to us, and Ill tell you what happened there.
And so, they send me a copy of the paper, and they have it on the front page. Instead of just an ad they put it on the front page, because the man that run the newspaper was married to the girl who used to live two houses from where I was hiding. I used to come over all the time. So she says, Hey, we got to put that on the front page, and they did.
PG: And its amazing how this man tried to get through official officers to find out where we were hiding, because it was all illegal, you know, so it wasnt registered. But while we were hiding there, we never got out of the house.
CE: How long were you in Baarn?
PG: It wasnt long, maybe one or two months.
CE: But you had allyour whole family there.
PG: Yeah, the whole family was there. Now, whether it was boredom or we needed money, we started crocheting gloves. Everybody did a part: the pinky, the ring finger, middle finger. Mom would sew them together. And the man I told you about, and I have pictures here in my Power Pointwe lived here, the little house in between, and then a big house, and he lived there with his two sisters, mother and father. And the father used to go to stores, get the boxes, tissue paper. Mom would wrap them up. Hed take them back to the stores we used to do business with. They paid; with the money, we paid the lady of the house, who was very religious. God is not going to let the Germans get you. Every night she prayed. We paid for the ration cards, till that was all good and well.
And then one day, one of the girls cameand I always tell the students they were very attractive girls; they didnt come often enoughshe comes and says, The Nazis know youre here. Theyre going come and get you. But Grandma lives across the street. Theres a shed in the backyard; youre going to hide there. So at night after curfew, we go across the street, hide in the shed. Well, you know how big sheds are? Grandmas sleeping on the floor, seventy-three years old, and we are sitting in chairs. After several days she comes and says, The Dutch police took the Nazis to the wrong address, so its safe to come back. We were happy we could sleep on a decent mattress again.
I never got out the house. But I was young, didnt wear a star, didnt look that Jewish, even though I had a big nose. I dont know why they didnt think I looked that Jewish. But I had to go to Amsterdam to pick up ration cards and I come out of the train stationCentral Station in Amsterdam, that big stationand there the Nazis are checking ID [identification] cards. Oh, shit! You didnt hear that [speaking to CE].
PG: I remember when my dad used to travel a lot and one time we were at the airportat the train stationhe says, Look, whenever its very busy, you have to not go out the front. Theres a back exit. And I went through the back exit. And it saved me, because otherwise if I had gone to the front, the Nazis would have caught me, and then I wouldnt have got the ration cards and brought them back.
CE: Where did you go to get the ration cards?
PG: I dont remember.
CE: You dont remember?
PG: But I do remember so clearly coming out of the train, going down the steps, and theres a big hallway and then another big entranceway, like with big boards all for the train arrivals and departure. And I can see everybody gathered there, because theres Nazis standing there checking, and I quickly went out the back way. But I dont remember what address I went and picked up the ration cards.
CE: And then did you moveyou moved yet to another hiding place, right?
PG: Well, no.
CE: What was Putten? I read that
PG: No. Then the girl came again and said that the Nazis found out the Dutch police betrayed them, they going to come. So, whether Dad was tired of running or we had no more connections or what, I dont know, but he said to me, Remember the little town of Putten, where you stayed one summer vacation with the domestic help? And they had an apple orchard. I ate so many apples that I threw up. I said, Thats it. Either my brother or sister goes, I go, but they wouldnt come.
And that little town, they killed a German soldier. Retaliation, they took every man of that town and every boy and sent them to Auschwitz. They took them to Auschwitz. According to the book I have, they burned half the town down. So I was there looking in. I escaped though the hole, eye of the needle or something like thatbut theres a word for itfour times. Its unbelievable.
Then on July 24, 1943, I heard footsteps on the ground while I slept in an upstairs front bedroom on the front wall. My sister and grandmother slept on the opposite wall. And I got up, and my sister said, What are you doing? Not wanting to scare her, cause I didnt know what it was, I says, I want to look at the planes going overhead. As I looked down, I saw the Nazis were there. I says, There they are, and I jumped in the closet. Â My sister said, Go back to bed. Being an obedient boy, I went back to bed.
CE: And why did she tell you to get back in bed? Do you think?
PG: I always wondered why didnt she go in my bed, cause Grandma and her slept, sleeping in one bed, and I would hide in the thing. But then, I dont know what would have happened, what I would have done all by myself, fifteen years old. So I went back to bed.
Nazis walked in, made us get dressed, took us to the police station, put us in cells, interrogated us. Im fifteen years old. I said, I dont know. Then after several days in jail, they handcuffed my grandmother and sister, they handcuffed my mother and father and they handcuffed my brother and myself. And, very humiliating, they marched us through the little town, to the train stationand in my Power Point [presentation], I have a picture of the train station. Took a train to Amsterdam, and in Amsterdam they put us in a theater from which they removed all the seatsyou might have been there; theres a monument now. Youve heard of Artis, the zoo, the big zoo?
PG: Well, just
CE: I didnt go there, but yeah.
PG: Well, just before that, theresit used to be a theater, now its a monument with names of peopleGans is there, tooof all the people who went through there. We slept on the floor several days.
CE: Maybe this is a good place to stop and
PG: Yeah, thats right.
CE: To stop, and then what well do when we come back is pick up on your being in that theater, and what happened after that.
PG: In the theater we slept on the floor, and we spent several days there. But one day at a presentation, I see a man and a wife laughing and talking, kind of disturbed me. Afterwards he comes to me and in fluent Dutch he says to me, I heard you talk about that theater. He says, I lived around the corner from that theater, our backyards touched, and once in a while we were able to smuggle kids out. You know, over the fence. And I told him I had to tell the students. Once in a while I mentionI dont always get enough time to talkthat if I had told a lie, he would have come to me and said, What do you mean? There was no people in the theater, or something.
But he came, and he says, Yes, I remember very well. And he lived right there and he sent me pictures, blueprints of where his house was compared to the theater, because the theater was only the second building on that street and then he lived on this street. It was like this. A coincidence, you know, that the guy was listening to my presentation, like you who heard me talk at Studio 620 and now youre sitting next to me.
CE: Thats right, thats right.
CE: Okay, this is tape two, interview of Philip Gans, and the date is April 9, 2009. Â So, Phil, you want to start talking about being in the theater in Amsterdam?
PG: Yeah, like I said, we slept on the floor. And one funny thing I remember, and it didnt mean anything to me at that time. You know, we were taken out of our house, we didnt have anything, and I remember a guy brushing his teeth with his finger. He says, But nothing came of it. By that he meant more sexual than brushing his teeth. You know, using his finger, brushing his teeth, but it didnt mean anything to me.
And we stayed there probably eight, nine, ten days. And then they took us from there to a camp in Holland, a detention camp, Westerbork. Being that we did not go when Dad was called, they put us in a punishment barrack surrounded by barbed wire within a camp surrounded by barbed wire. We were not allowed out of barbed wire area.
CE: Now did they take a lot of people at that point? To Westerbork from the theater, or just
PG: Well, Id say probably everybody in the theater at the time.
CE: Everybody in the theater?
PG: Yeah, I dont remember.
CE: And how did theyhow did they transport you?
CE: You dont remember?
PG: Probably by truck.
CE: By truck?
PG: Probably. I have noI have no recollection.
CE: So youre not sure.
CE: Youre not sure. Okay.
PG: And my mothers sister, who lives in Paris and fled when the Germans came, wound up in Jamaica and Curacao, Aruba. She hadwhen she passed away, amongst her belongings I found a card that my mother wrote from Westerbork to a lady friend of ours with two daughters. And the return address was L. GansLea GansBarrack 67. I would have never known what barrack it was, because in the seventies [1970s] when I went to the people I was hiding with, the Conens, we went to Westerbork, but there were no more barracks there. So then I found out it was Barrack 67.
And she wrote a letter to a lady with two daughters whose father used to supply books to my brotherhe lived right around the corner from us between the theater and our house. And my brother was always studying, and he was a brain. When we came to camp, he was in charge of the camp at that time, and I have a picture of him in my Power Point. And he comes to me and he says, Lookknowing the family, he comes to me, says, Look, Ill make you an errand boy, so you have to run out of camp. Also, once a week we have transport going to Germany, and Ill keep you behind if you want to. I said, No, Ill stay with the family.
See, in Westerbork, it was different from other camps. They made you believe that everything was well. They had classes, they had circumcision, they had hospitals, they had sports, they hadI wish I had the piece of paper in front of me. I always read it off to the students
CE: With your
PG: You probably have it.
CE: This, yourI do have it hereyour memoir, right?
CE: You can go ahead and say it, while I see if I canhere it is, here it is.
PG: I dont think its in my memoirs.
CE: Okay, there you are.
PG: No, its not in detail. You know what, I got it out of the computer, and I read it off to the students how they made you believe that life was normal. A lady gave birth premature, and it lookedeven though Westerbork had one of the best hospitals in Holland, they didnt have an incubator. They looked all over Holland to find an incubator, and when they found one they said to the lady, See how good care we take of you? Only six months later, that same lady with the baby was sent to the gas chambers.
But they made you believe that life waswe were going to work in Germany to relieve the Germans so they could fight in the front. Nobody had ever heard of the word concentration camp. And even Sam Schryver, who was in the camp late forty-four , early forty-five , when no more transfers were going to Germany, he says Phil, we never heard of the word concentration camp. We knew it
CE: This was a detention camp, right? Is that what they call it?
PG: Detention camp, yeah. Soyeah, they just made you believe that everything was normal. They had classes for children. They had rabbis. They had everything.
CE: Were you able to live with your family there?
PG: Oh, yeah. We were all together.
CE: In what kind of living situation?
PG: Well, like I said, we were in the barrack, but we were not allowed outside the barbed wire area. There were two or three barracks within that barbed wired area where people that wereI believe our hair was already shaved in there, I believe.
CE: Was it?
PG: Im not 100 percent.
CE: Did they take your belongings there or not?
PG: Well, we didnt have anything.
CE: You didnt even have a suitcase or anything?
PG: No, see, thats it. They just took you straight out of the house to the police station. And thats when I thought later onyoull hear that at the end of the storycause other people who went to Westerbork, they were told to bring suitcase, clothing, blankets, rubber boots, to bring all that with them. But we didnt have anything, see. And I dont remember like what did we wear? And when did we change clothes, or what? Were we given clothes, or what? I have no clue.
But we stayed there for not too long, and then on July 24, 1943, they loaded 1,001 people in cattle cars, fifty, sixty, seventy to a cattle car. Can you imagine my grandmother? Cattle cars, theyre this high off the ground; you had to climb in them. My grandmother, seventy-three years old, and I can still see her laying, sleeping on the floor. Now, 1,001. I tell the students they have to go to the bathroom the train would have never left, so what did the Nazis do? They put a pail in each boxcar, and if you had to go to the bathroom, thats where you went. Inhumane, in front of everybody, midst of the summer; hot, stinking, smelly, terrible.
We spent several days in those boxcars, and then we wound upand I show the picture in the Power Point, you see the railroad tracks going underneath the port of a building, come out on the other side and it splits three ways, and the train stops there. And the doors open up and I have my jacket onI could have put that on. I have a prison jacket.
CE: Yeah, thats right; you had it on when I saw you speak.
PG: Yeah, and people dressed like Im dressed with my jacket on then, and Germans with police start to yell, Raus! Raus!, Get out! Get out! Chaos.
CE: Were you all standing up in the cattle car? Did you have to stand up?
PG: No, we would sit down.
CE: You could sit down.
PG: Yeah, I dont think I could have stood up for forty-eight hours.
CE: Yeah, I wondered.
PG: I would have fallen down. You see, people exaggerate. They say eighty, a hundred people in a cattle car. I question that, and I told them at the museum. I dont believe you canI would love to take sixty average persons and say, Okay, guys, come on, lets get in this cattle car, see how we can fit in there, cause theres one on display and its the same cattle car. No way could you put a hundred men in there unless they stand up like sardines, and you couldnt do that for forty-eight hours because people would be falling dead before they even get there. You know, and there was no
CE: But some of them did, didnt theydie on the way?
PG: Well, I dont remember, because we were all in good physical condition. Now, who am I to say when somebody says, I spent seven, eight days in the cattle car, that that isnt true, because I have records of every cattle car that left Holland. The most was three days. They were all two days. I have two sheets. Every week a transport going, and they all were two days, because I have a book that says when they arrived in Auschwitz. But who am I to say that the guy did not spend six, seven days there, and that people didnt die after being that many days in the cattle car?
CE: And it may have felt like six or seven days.
PG: I beg your pardon?
CE: It may have felt like six or seven days.
PG: Yeah. But just like the story about the apple and the girl at the gate
Referring to Holocaust survivor Herman Rosenblat, who claimed that while he was imprisoned at Buchenwald, he encountered a girl at the fence who brought him food. Rosenblat survived the war and was eventually reunited with the girl in America, where they were married. His memoir Angel at the Fence was originally scheduled to be published in 2009, but was canceled after Rosenblats story was proved false.
I told my wife I cant see how a girl could get that close to the gate, because the Germans wouldnt allow it. I mean, watchtowers with people with machine guns there; they would have killed her.
CE: So youre onnow youre on your way to Auschwitz.
PG: So, then they tookwe had to get out of the cattle car. It was chaos. They took all the men, put them on one side, and all the women to the other side. One by one the men had to walk in front of a Nazi officer; they tell me it was [Josef] Mengele. He flicked his finger to the left, formed a new group over to the right with the women. When it was Dads turn, to the left with the new group, my brothers turn, to the left to the new group. When it was my turn he hesitated. At that time I wondered why; later on I found out. Is this kid old enough to work? Im only fifteen years old, and fifteen years was the cutoff point. He went this way [points to the left].
Had it gone this way, I wouldnt have been standing herein this case sittingbecause all the women and the people were chosen to go to his right who marched straight to the gas chambers, gassed, and cremated. Now again, to show you how deceitful the Germans were, the Nazis, they told those women, You had a rough trip. Cattle cars for several days? We want to make it up for you; going to have a nice shower and it will be nice from here on in. Little did they know that five, ten, fifteen minutes later they would be gassed and cremated.
They were so deceitful it was pathetic. They did that to avoid uprisings, or whatever you want to call it. So in the year 1995, for the fiftieth anniversary of liberation of the last camp I was in, Germany invited us [to] Flossenbrg, Bavaria. I took my two oldest daughters and my son-in-law, and in GermanyGermany pays for everything for four days, food, lodging.
After four days we rented a car and we drove to Dresden. In Dresden, we took a train to Krakwand this was 1995, was not too long after the breakdown of the [Berlin] Wall. They still had rickety railroads, not like todays modern railroads. And you could see the buildings were a lot different fromnorth, east, southfrom Western Europe, Eastern Germany. And in Krakw, we stayed in a Jewish center, a little hotel, my two daughters, my son-in-law, myself. And a funny thing happened there. We bought a map at a kiosk. Standing in line, my turn next, map five bucks. Guy behind me said something in Polish. I only wound up paying only one dollar. Honest, Ill never forget.
CE: Do you know what he said?
CE: Do you have any idea what he
PG: I have no ideabut I knew that he said, Youre robbing this guy, the maps dont cost five dollars; they are only one or two dollars.
PG: You know, and this is what Iif I have time, I like to tell the students. Stand up if you see something thats being done that isnt right; stand up and speak up, even if youre the only one. And I wish I knew the mans name, phone number, address, and I would write him or call him and tell him, Thank you for what you did. Cause he stood up for something that wasnt right, and few people do that. They just let it go.
CE: Can we go back to the train, or is there something else you wanted to tell about that story?
PG: Well, the selections and
CE: I wanted to go back to that moment. So you have the three tracks
CE: And so your mother and sister go off in one direction and you
PG: Thats after we were unloaded out of the cattle cars; they separated the men from the women.
CE: Okay, do you remember that moment? Can you recall that moment?
PG: Very little.
CE: Very little, so you dont remember what that felt like or
PG: Well, no, because
CE: What you were thinking, or can you imagine what you were thinking?
PG: Because we didnt know. You got to remember, a lot of this stuff is Monday morning quarterbacking.
PG: We did not know that those women and people to the right were going to be gassed and cremated. We didnt know that. Of the books I read, some people said Stay with your mother, stay with your father. Or, Look older, or, Look younger, you know, hoping that if you look older maybe you got a better or if you looked younger you wouldntbecause we did not know that they were going to go to gas chambers. But thats the last time I saw my mother, sister and grandmother, never saying goodbye. Like I said, we did not know what was going to happen to them.
CE: So, then what happened?
PG: So, I went back in 1995. In Krakw we found an agency that had tours; we signed up but they whisk you through. But in the year 2000 my oldest daughter was in Italy, and I said, Would you like to go to Auschwitz? She said, Yes, Dad. I met her in Krakw. Plane comes in at nine oclock at night, no Christinamy daughter. Took me one hour to find out that there was an air traffic controller strike, and she had missed the plane. So, the next day she came.
Now Im looking for the taxi cab driver that speaks EnglishIll tell you why. In 1995, my middle daughter wanted something out of the gift shop of the Auschwitz museum, so we took a taxi cab and he drove so fast my daughter said, Dad, Im getting sick. Tell him to slow down. I dont speak Polish, so I motioned slow down. He didnt pay attention. I should have taken the key and turned the ignition off. If he had done something to me, my son-in-law was a husky guy; he would have taken care of him. We got to Auschwitz, she was throwing up.
Now on my eightieth birthdaythat was last yearthere was sixty people there, and of course my whole family. We got to talking about it and I said, Too bad you didnt throw up in his taxi. She said, I did: half in his taxi, half on the street. And I says, Good, let him clean it up. (laughs)
So I found a taxi cab driver for fifty dollars, fifty-five dollars. He stayed with us all day. Now, my daughter and I walked the path that my grandmother, mother, and sister walked in 1943 to the gas chambers. It was very emotional, but I tell the studentsyou learn a lot more hearing the story from a survivor then reading the same thing in a book, and they all agree on that, the letters I get.
But when I have a presentation, I tell them, I dont get paid for this, but youre going to pay me, right? And they look at me, they laugh, and, Didnt the teacher tell you to bring paper money? I says. Write a letter what you thought of my presentation; thats enough pay for me. And the letters keeps me going and talking, because please tell this generation what happened. Please go to the schools. We learn so much more from a survivor then reading it in a book or seeing it on T.V. [television].Theyre so encouraging that one of the reasons, because its very emotional, but I keep doing it. So
CE: Can you go back now to the actual experience of being in the camp?
PG: So, the men that were chosen to go to the left. We were loaded in trucks and taken to another camp. Auschwitz is very large; a lot of people dont realize. Three camps: Auschwitz I, the original camp, with one gas chamber and one crematory. Then we had Auschwitz II-Birkenau, with the four gas chambers and four crematories. Then there was Auschwitz III, slave labor camp with many sub-camps: Monowitz, Awebawitz, Gleiwitz I, Gleiwitz II, Monowitz by far being the largest.
And in 1943, at that time, IG Farben, at that time the largest chemical factory, were building a plan to produce synthetic rubber under the trade name of Buna, and synthetic fuel. They already had two plants in Germany making Buna, but they were in reach of the American bombers. And they wanted a place where the American bombers couldnt reach it, and they thought Auschwitz would be the place. And there was water there; everything was favorable for building a plant there. Even though in forty-four  from Italy we were bombedI remember once, the books told me twice. But I remember onceI remember me running to a pile of dirt. I dont know where the bombs fell, but I wasnt hurt. So they had a lot of people working there.
And we went to the camp, MonowitzAuschwitz III, but Monowitz, and a lot of people called it Buna. Arriving there, there was the shock of our life. We lost all of our clothing. We had nothing: no shoes, no jewelry, nothing. We were issued uniforms like thislater on Ill show you a copy of it somewhere throughout the interview. Our hair was shaven. We got wooden shoes with a cloth top, and the number you see on my uniform is tattooed on my left forearm. Now again, what a lot of people dont know that Auschwitz I, II, and III are the only camps that tattooed the number. No other camp tattooed the number. And Ill show you the paperwork on that.
PG: No other camp tattooed the number. There was one camp that tattooed KL right here, on your wrist, Konzentrations lagerGerman for concentration campbecause I met a guy in Poland that had the KL.
We were sent to get dressed in the central barrack. A barrack consists of 80 percent sleeping quarters for the prisoners. We sleep in bunk beds, three high, two together, a little space in between, and again a set of two bunk beds three high. Theyre perpendicular to the outside walls; in the center they ran parallel with the outside walls. Bunk bed consisted of straw mattress, a straw pillow, and a blanket. The other 20 percent had benches, tables, and lockers where the block leader, the kapos
Prisoners with administrative duties.
and the Stubendienst stayed. And Ill get to those people later.
Within that 20 percent area was a cubicle, with two sets of bunk beds, two high, one opposite the front door as you walked in and one to the left. And I remember the kapo on the top bunk bed on the left. Now, Im not good looking, but this guy was utterly ugly. He always said, Youll never get out alive. And it wasnt only a physical abuse, but also mentally. They never had a good word for you. Du verfluchte Schweinhund, du!, You damned dirty pig! I mean, its unbelievable.
CE: Hed say that often?
PG: Thats all they called you. Theyre terrible. Something else I wanted to say that slipped my mind. Hope Ill get it back; at my age pretty hard to remember. (laughs)
CE: Youre doing remarkably well.
PG: Um, strange things in campand everybody will tell you a different story. Anybody whos seen Paper Clips
Paper Clips is a 2004 documentary about the Paper Clips Project. In 1998, students at a school in Whitwell, Tennessee decided to collect six million paper clips to represent each of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. The documentary features interviews with students, teachers, Holocaust survivors, and people who contributed paper clips.
, one of the survivors says, Theres not enough paper in this world to write everybodys story from the Holocaust. We had peopletheir hair wasnt shaven, they were always in the top bunk bed. They were getting packagesthey were all Polishthey were getting packages from home. They were sitting there eating in front of us while were starving to death. Food left over they put in the lockers with the kapos, in that area. Through the Internet I met a guy that works in the archives in Auschwitz museum. And he told me, Yes, they were prisoners, but they werent like you. You know, I dont knowI still dont understand the difference, but they got packages
CE: They werent Jewish?
PG: No. They were just Polish prisoners.
PG: And the beds had to [be] made just perfect, pillow straight on the mattress. And once in a while the block leader would keep somebody behind andmaybe every day, I dont know, but I only had it a few times. And the two boards, this long, the width of the bed with a handle, and you pushed it like that so when Nazi came, he looked down and everything was straight. And I remember one time when I was staying behind when he went to get the Nazis. Im the only one in this room with those lockers with food, so I go to the food, but I cant steal a candy bar. I notice it, I couldnt steal that because theyll notice itbut sugar. So I ate a couple of spoonfuls of sugar, because they didnt notice, you know, there was three, four spoons full of sugar missing.
CE: That must have tasted good.
PG: (laughs) Say that again. So
CE: Do you remember the way that tasted at that time?
CE: Can you? Can you?
PG: And I always loved sugar. (laughs)
CE: It always tastes good.
PG: You know, theres so many little things that are unbelievable.
CE: So, tell me what a typical day was like?
PG: Well, Im trying to figure out the one thing that I forgot to mention.
Anyway, we are assigned to a bunk, go to sleep. Next morning the block leader comes around with a rubber hose, hits left and right. Aufstehen! Aufstehen!, Get up! Get up! This is four oclock in the morning. We get up, go to the washroom. In the twenty-one months of my confinement I havent seen a toothbrush or toothpaste. Soap and towels we used to get infrequent when we took a shower. So we washed ourselves the best we could, dried ourselves with our clothes, go back to the barrack. They had a Stubendienst; he hands out the foodhes like a helper, a server.
Now here I remember it this way, but in a book I read it different. Here we get a piece of bread, dark hard bread, with a piece of margarine or a little bit of marmalade; this is the way I remember it. In the books I read, the bread was given at night, but all I can remember is soup for lunch and soup for dinner, and bread in the morning. We only have two utensils, a spoon and a bowl for the soup. At work wed sharpen the handle of the spoon so we could cut the bread.
After we finish eating, were told to go to parade ground. Now, you got to remember theres betweendepending on when, how many transports came in, how many people died, between seven and twelve thousand people in Monowitz. Go to parade ground, line up by barrack number, and block leader counts, make sure everybody is there. Then he calls the Nazis.
When everybodys accounted for, we are assigned to a kapo. A kapo is nothing more than a foreman; he takes two, three, four hundred people to work. We march out, we sing German songs. The band is playing. The band is made up from prisoners; they were probably musicians on the outside. We get to work, many people working there: POWs [prisoners of war] from EnglandI can still see them with their grimy clothes; they had long coatsbig husky women from Ukraine, Russia; many, many Holocaust peoplethousands of themand many, many civilians.
Now, somebody wrote a book, and I only recently met him. He told me there were French POWs, but I have never read it anywhere. You have?
CE: I havent, no.
PG: I have never read it anywhere, but he says yes. Its funny how we met this guy. I was interviewed by Brad something in New York, and he says, Gee, I interviewed a man from Holland, from Amsterdam, who was in Auschwitz. He lives in California; do you want to talk to him? I said, Sure.
So we had a three-way conversation, and the man was Max Garcia, and the first thing he asked me was, Whats your number?
Silence. I said, Whats your number?
PG: We were on the same cattle car transport from Holland to Auschwitz, the same.
PG: We got separated. At the selection, he went to Monowitz. He wound up in a hospital with broken fingers, from throwingwe had unloading certain things. He got broken fingers, they put him the hospital, and from the Monowitz hospital they sent him to Auschwitz hospital.
Now he said there were French, I never saw them. So I only repeat or I only talk about what I knew that happened, what I saw. I noticed POWs [prisoners of war] from England. I can still see them walking there. And the books will tell you that. I never read anywhere from the French because (inaudible) Ukraine. Now we got all the dirty work. The plant is still being built, railroad cars with bags with cement. Two guys would put a bag of cement on your shoulder, two guysyou walk a while, two guys take it off. You did it all day long, and if you see how skinny we were, thats rough at the end of the day.
Now, this I have never said before, and I will not mention the country, but there was a certain countryWe had no soap, no waterno soap, no towels, and not everybody washed. And there was one nation in Europethey were prisoners, Jewish prisonerstheir neck was caked with a layer of cement, because they didnt wash. I can see that still in front of me. Now, the Dutch people have a reputation of being clean, we sweep and clean the streets and everything, but that country isfrom carrying those bags of cement all day long, even if you do wash, it is going to cake on you, and it was hard.
Another job wasthey were still laying railwayscarrying rails. Theyre very heavy; five men to a rail. To me, that was the easiest job, even though the rails were heavy. I was so tiny, so small, I had to raise my shoulders if I was carrying. Now I feel bad, because the other guys had more to carry. But you know, people ask me, When you were in camp, everybody for himself. You dont worry about the other guy, you want to survive. And I believe Elie WieselI read the book, but somebody told me when there was a problem with his father, he was told, Look, you try to save him, youre going to die too. So its everybody for himself, you know.
Another job was coal commander, punishment commander. How I got in it I dont know. I finally got out of it, but that shows you the mentality of the Nazis. First of all, it was a dusty job, inhaling all of the coal dust, and Im shoveling very hard, lot of coal around. Im young, fifteen years old. An old man over there is not shoveling much, because theres no coal there. Now what did the Nazis do? He traded places. He put me where there was no coal and the old man shoveling hard. At my age I could have done it better than him, you know. Course at that time I was happyhey, I got an easy jobbut later on I thought, I could have done it easier than the old man. But they did everything to make life miserable for you. They were sadist. They were cruel.
Another job was they were still pouring foundation, cement for foundations. When they pour the cement you have to get the air out, because air weakens the foundation. So they issued us rubber boots, and all day long wed be stamping in the cement. Unbeknown to me, I had a little cut on the top of my boots, in the instep. Any time I pull my footthe fine cement, the lime seeped through, and every time I pulled my foot up it would rub against it, and it became a wound. Later on, it became infected. They took me in the hospital. Now here they take a fifteen year old kid in the hospital, and I got a list where they took two uncles of mine, forty-four and forty-three years, straight to the gas chambers with their wives and children, one with one child, the other one with two or three children, and here they put a fifteen-year-old kid in the hospital.
A student asked me one time, How long were you in the hospital? No clue. But the Netherlands Red Cross, had aI wrote them one time, getting money from Germany for being a slave laborer; you have to have proof. I wrote Holland, I have proof. Certificates for my parents, brother, sister, and grandmother that they died, but nothing about me. So they send me a list of every place Id been and how long I was in the hospital. I told her, They even keep records from the time I spent in the hospital. And we have people deny it.
Now, since I met this man in Auschwitz that run the archives, he has sent me a copy of an original book of the Monowitz hospital, where every entry is made for every person going into that hospital, the date they came in, the name, the number, and when they were released. And my name is in there, and Ive got a copy of that original book, of that original page, in my Power Point, and I show it. And theyre amazed how well they kept records. And yet, people deny it.
CE: Why do you think they kept those records? What was the reason?
PG: I know that on the twentieth of December 192007, you were at
CE: I know why you keep records, and I know why theyre important to you. Im wondering why the Germans kept such records.
PG: That is therewhat do you call it? Like I show you all the records from Holland, from my family, one daywhere they were born, what city, when they moved, they day they moved and which town they moved to. The records of Europe are so unbelievable. And the Germans never figured at that time they were going to lose the war, because by the time they start losing the war, they burning up stuff.
CE: Control over the information.
PG: But they never figured they were going to lose the war. They kept those records. It has my brother in there; it has my father in there; all on record in those books.
PG: Unbelievable. So, I show him a copy of that and up on this chart the doctor. Being only fifteen years oldit was only less than a month after I came to Auschwitz, cause its from September the twenty-thirdI came August the twenty-sixthSeptember the twenty-third to October the eighth that I was in the hospital, 1943. The doctor gave me leather shoes, which was a plus, and said, If youre ever hungry, come to the hospital and Ill give you food. And occasionally he did.
My brother didnt fare that well. He had blood poison, and February 1944 they put him in the hospital. I remember when he came out he walked bent over, sore, cold. And according to the records, they put him in the hospital again, and there is a column that says Entlassen, discharge, or To Auschwitz, or Nach Auschwitz, or Nach Birkenau behind his name. Nach Birkenau, that meant he went to the gas chambers.
Well, we couldnt find my brother, then we found that outnot through the books, but from people working therethat he went to the gas chambers. Can you imagine how he felt? Because they didnt put him in a limousine, they threw him in a truck with dead and half dead bodies, and he knew where he was going. Everybody knew if youre too weak and they send you to Birkenau, youre going to the gas chambers. Can you imagine how our dad must have felt in forty-three ? He lost his wife, his daughter, and his mother-in-lawand so far I havent come up with a good joke about the mother-in-lawand, now, in forty-four  he lost his oldest son. But like I tell the students, life goes on.
Once a month, there was selections. Naked, you had to walk in front of a Nazi officer, a doctor, and the block leader. And if they thought you looked too skinny, or you didnt walk properlyand Ive shown pictures of two people that are so skinny; how you determine that is beyond me. But when they thought you looked too skinny or didnt walk properly, they asked for your number, and when you gave them your number you knew the next day you were off to the gas chambers. So you live with that the entire life you were there.
My dad was picked out twice, but the doctors, seeing the name, knew he was my father; he took his name off. Your father is the only one out of twenty-one members of his familyall his brothers, sisters, their spouses and the children, they all died in the gas chambers. My dad is the only one that did not die in the gas chambers; he died in the death march.
CE: Now why did they takewhen they saw his name, why did they pull him out? Because he had lost so many people? I dont understand.
PG: No, but he knew it was my father, so he didnt want him to go the gas chambers.
PG: So he wanted to save his life by crossing his name off so he wouldnt be sent to Birkenau to be gassed.
CE: So it was
PG: Doesnt that make sense?
CE: Yes, but this person had some relationship to you?
PG: No, thats the doctor that treated me.
CE: It was the doctor that treated you.
PG: That treated me while I was in the hospital.
CE: Okay, that was the missing link for me.
CE: Okay, all right.
PG: The doctor that treated me.
PG: See, he was nice enough to do that. So, thats the month-to-month selection.
If a kapo left in the morning with four hundred men, comes back at night with 397, we stand in the parade ground for hours and hours. And you know its hard to convey to those kids. Youre not just standing there, I mean, its cold, youre tired, you worked ten hours a day, youre up at four oclock in the morning, you work ten hours, and then you stand for hours in a parade ground. Could be raining, cold. When they dont find them, they send you back to the barrack. When they do find them, the next day or two, three days later, we have to come out again and they hang them. I saw a triple hangingmany single hangings, but only one triple hanging. Thats a reminder: if you try to escape, this is going to happen to you.
And I actually had twice, once about a year ago and one just within the last couple days. A girl asked me, Did you try to escape? I says, Heck, I dont want to hang. You gotIm in Poland, I dont speak Polish, and Ive read a book where a guy knocked on somebodys door that escaped. I think maybe it was in Defiance
Defiance, by Nechama Tec, is a book about the Bielski brothers, four Polish Jews who fought against the Nazis.
. Luckily, it was a person who was anti-Nazi, so they helped him, but if you get a person that is even just scared, they would call the police and say, Hey, I got a man here. I dont want him, Im afraid. You know, they take you back to camp and hang you.
So, I dont speak Polish. I have no hair on my head. I dont have decent clothes. Now, Iand you know, eight, nine ten thousand men on a big parade ground, those in the back barely see the hanging. But you have to walk byevery barrack column walks by and turn your head to the left and see him hang there. I can so clearly see that.
Its only maybe 5 percent of what I remember, of what Im telling you. There is so much I forgot. Like the shower stalls, the bathrooms, and the washrooms, there werethey were separate. The washrooms were separate from the bathfrom the so-called toilets. I got pictures of it, but I dont remember. I like to put it in the Power Point, because it must have been trueand it came straight from Auschwitz, the picture I got, from the archives. But I do not remember it, and I do not like to talk too much about things that I did not personally experience. Like I said, I remember bread in the morning; the book said at night, but I dont remember that.
They were brutal. One time, Ihow I got them I dont know, but I wound up with raw potatoes. I smuggled them in camp. In the barrack somebody found out I had it, squealed on me. I got a beating and they took the potatoes away from me.
And what very few people know that there were only about ten camps in Germany where they had brothels. And Monowitz was one of them. And I remember very clearly walking out the gate in the morning, the girls hanging out the window and waving to us. Now they were there for the benefitI dont know if the SS [Schutzstaffel] was involved in it, toobut for the kapos. If a kapo did good he got a coupon, and with so many coupons you could go and visit the prostitutes.
Now, somebody questioned me once and says, Were they Jewish?
I says, Most of the people that came to Auschwitz were Jewish. I would say so.
Well, the Nazis were not allowed to have contact or intercourse or anything with Jewish people, Jewish female.
I says, You got me there. I dont know. Maybe it was not for the Nazis, maybe it was only for the kapos, but Im sure the kapos weremany of them were not Jewish, soI mean, rules were made to be broken, right? Yeah, few people knew that, because when I mentioned it [at] the museum, the Florida Holocaust Museum, the one girl says, We never knew that, and I printed it out of the computer. Just like few people knew that Auschwitz was the only camp that numberedthat tattooed you. And I got that out of the computer, too. Thats proof that, you know, Im not just blubbering my mouth, but thats the truth.
In camp, you had to wear a capI got one of them made upbut got into the barrack, you got to take it off. Well, my dad forgot itwhether he was cold or he forgot, I dont know, but he got a beating, and I remember just like it happened yesterday. When we walked in the barrack, he grabbed his hat, crumpled it up, afraid to get another beating. Heres a forty-three year old successful businessman thattreated like worse than like a dog. And Im sure there were lawyers and other tradesmen that they couldnt use, like they could use a carpenter or plumber, because they were still building all over the place. So they could use tradesmen, but they probably had not much use for businesspeople, lawyers, accountants and stuff like that. And they were treated just like dogs, and they had good positions on the outside. Yeah, theres so much.
Water; there was a sign above the water: Verboten Wasser zu trinken. It was prohibited to drink the waterthey were saying typhus. Well, if you figure you have nothing to drink or eat between breakfast and lunch, lunch and dinner, and dinner till the next day at breakfast. Right after your meal, you cleaned your bowl out. I dont think we ever used water; we just licked it clean, and then we brought it up for the coffee. Well, I didnt like the coffee; it was terrible. Once in a while we had tea, which I didnt mind. Well, I drank water. I get thirsty, I drink water, and Im still alive. Now, either I have a strong stomach, that didnt bother me, or they put the signs there to make people feel miserable. Theyre thirsty, but they cant drink. Because the water is typhus and theres nothing else you can drink.
CE: Did most people drink the water, or not?
PG: I dont know. I have no clue. I know I drank it, thats it. I had so little contact with other people. You get up at four oclock in the morning, you go to the washrooms, back to eat, you go to the parade ground, you walk to work, you work ten hours, you come home at night, youre dead tired, you go to sleep. You know, there isnt that much free time; you work six days a week. And being fifteenI dont know, I just didnt have much contact with people.
CE: So the day that you didnt work, what did you do?
PG: Sunday we didnt work.
CE: And what did you do that day?
PG: I have no clue.
CE: You dont know?
PG: I dont remember.
CE: So you dont remember having friends, or?
PG: No, I had no friends. I still dont have any friends. (laughs)
CE: (laughs) I know better than that.
PG: Finally, on January 18, 1945, unbeknown to me, the Russians were coming. They walked us all day long from Monowitz to Gleiwitz II in the snow, which fell off of peoples backs. I know a galshe has passed away since; she was my ageshe walked from Birkenau to Bergen-Belsen, twelve days in January, in the midst of the winter, unbelievable. Twelve days, she survived. She was a tiny girl; she was from Hungary orGreece or Hungary; now I forgot. She passed away many yearswell, many, probably three, four years ago, and I havent seen her prior to that for a couple of years even. But about eight years ago I met her at the museum. Her English was poor, so she never gave presentations.
In Gleiwitz II, they put us in bunk beds, two, three to a bunk bed. And I tell the students, Â you read stories about people, two, three in a bunk bed, but like the famous Buna soup
Buna soup was a soup with virtually no nutritional value, served as lunch.
we were given, which resulted in an average weight loss of six and a half to nine pounds a week, and I tell the students that puts the Atkins Diet to shame. The famous Buna soup, a nutritional aid not given to other prisoners, so we were treated a little better because we were slave labors. I never remember and I never saw anybody else sleeping with somebody else. Again, if you put two, three people in a bunk bed you dont sleep muchyou cant work the next day; youd fall overand we had to work for nine hours in the winter and ten hours in the summer. But then at Gleiwitz II, we slept three in a bunk bed.
After several days there they put us in open cattle cars, and thennow, the midst of the summer we were in closed cattle cars, and now in the midst of the winter we were in open cattle cars. Our train takes off, and you have to go to the bathroom you had to straddle the boxcar, because there were only men in the boxcars. If somebody dies, we took the topcoat up and threw the body overboard. Nazis would shoot at it, thinking somebody was trying to escape.
Right south of Poland we stopped in the Czech Republic, and people saw us and they came to the fence, went back home and got food and drinks. And I remember climbing out of the boxcar and going to the fence. I got a cup of liquid, but I dont know what it was. I go back to the boxcar, hand the liquid, and by the time I climb in I got a rifle right up my behind. I got into the boxcar and there was hardly anything left for me to drink. Â I should have drank it first and then go to the boxcar. (laughs) Well, maybe I saw the Nazi coming, so I quick run, didnt have time to drink, and give the liquid to them.
Then we left again and wound up in Mauthausen. Everybody had to get out. Those of us who could walk would climb out the boxcar. Many could only crawl. They fell in front of the boxcar, one on top of the other. Can you imagine how the guy on the bottom must have felt? There was all these people on top of him still alive, but he cant get out, he cant move. We followed the Nazis; they turn around and camp is closed. Now I have to get back in the boxcar. I got to climb over those half dead bodies. Their hands and their faces are blue, their eyes are rolling; an awful sight.
We get back in the boxcar, and the train takes off again and we wind up in Oranienburg. I remember nothing about Oranienburg, but again the Netherlands Red Cross said I spent nine days there. I thought only one or two days. I dont remember anything about Oranienburg.
From Oranienburg we went south to Flossenbrg, and Flossenbrg is also a slave labor camp. I remember filing parts; it was nice because I was inside a building. I remember men showing me how to file. I worked in the laundry room. I dont remember much of Flossenbrg either. The food was the same: three meals, two soups, you know. And the Stubendienst is the smart. He gets a kettle, and he has a ladle, and instead of stirring it up to bring the potatoes, the veggies, whatevers in there to the top, we only get the top. And then the bottom part, the veggies and the potatoes went in the 20 percent area and the kapos and the Stubendienst and the block leader ate that. So they had a little bit better food.
If you didnt work you only got two meals; you forfeited your lunch. Belgian boy didnt feel good; he stayed in the barrack, for whatever reasonI never found out. The NazisI stayed with himthe Nazis pulled us out and gave us twenty-five lashes with a rubber hose. After one or two on your behind you straighten up, and they hit you over the head so youll go down again. They asked me if I could work, I said, Yes. They asked the Belgian boy, and he said he still had a stomachache. They made him run in the washroom, and every time they came out of the front they kick him. And you know, you got to imagine, youre skinny, you have nothing to your bones, and he was bleeding all over. I saw that with my own eyes. Theyre brutal. They were sadists.
Dirty camp; we had lice. Nobody would do anything about it. In Auschwitz the barracks would be disinfected, wed get clean clothes and a shower. Not so in Flossenbrg. When I was liberated, I still had lice.
Finally, on the sixteenth of March, 1945, they moved us again and we were in cattle cars, some open, some closed. I was in an open one, and I can still see the Nazis sitting on planks with rifles on their lap. The train takes off, and from nowhere come the Allied planes, thinking its a troop transport, and start shooting at us. The train stopsnow, there again, the train stops, the Nazis fled, so did the prisoners.
Some of us stayed behind and robbed the knapsack of the Nazis. All I got was margarine, and I remember so clearly a bullet hitting the wooden floor of the boxcar when I jumped out, too. Many people got killed, or severely wounded. I saw a guy with a big chunk of bread; I asked him to give me a piece of bread. Somebody saw me with breadI didnt have that much. I broke it in half, put it here. Thats all I got. I went to the bushes, ate the bread and the margarine. When the planes stopped firing, the Nazis called us back, found out the food was stolen. They searched in our boxcar, and they found a man with food on him.
Now, I gave the teachersevery teacher that I talk to, I send them ahead of timeyou got it, tooa booklet about a death march in which they talk about Flossenbrg. In the booklet it describes that the train left again, the next day or whatever, I do not remember. I only remember once in the boxcar the train stops because of the shooting by the Allied planes, and then we start marching. Because according to the booklet, we went back in the boxcars and went a little bit farther or whatever and stopped again or whatever. I dont know. I do not remember that, and thats why I say that we left. We started to march. Now, somebody thats been on the same transport might say, Hey, that isnt right, but hey, James, thats all I remember. Thats all I can say.
CE: This is tape three interview of Philip Gans, on April 9, 2009. Okay, we were just beginning on the last tape to talk about the death march. And would you like to pick up?
PG: Okay, this Hungarian boy and I, we went to the gate, hoping wed start from there, but they cut the gate where all the bodies were put that were shot at by the plane and the wounded bodies. By the time we got there, we were in the last group, and I remember that there werent enough guards left and they wouldnt let us go out. We pushed our way out, and they called a couple guards back. Now, we are in the last column, which I dont like to be, because on the death march, if you fall behind, you will be shot. They are not going to let you lay there and be alive.
I had wooden shoes, again; my shoes were hurting. You know, everyday items like handkerchiefs, belts, shoelaces, socks, we didnt have. I had a piece of wire holding my shoe together, and it was hurting me and I kneeled down to fix it. And I look around and I was the last one. I quick got up, because I knew if I stayed behind, I would be shot. We marched for six days soaking wet. I remember sleeping in the woods at night, cuddled up trying to stay warm. Its unbelievable. The booklet The Death March, which I always give to the teachersIm sure the museum will have a copy; if not, Ill give them a couple copiesits unbelievable how they treated the prisoners during those death marches.
On the last day, the sixth day, the twenty-second, we arrived in the little town of Stamsried, spent the night there. The next day we started marching again, through the woods, and I heard thunder in the distance. And the Nazis are running back and forth. Finally, they pushed us all amongst the trees. The Nazis left. I never saw another Nazi, only people in civilian clothes. They knew the end was near, and had civilian clothes with them.
The man who wrote the booklet, he went ahead. Some of us walked back. Pamphlets were falling. Surrender! Surrender! I come to the little town. There is a big German officer standing there and we were scared, but nevertheless he said, Geradeaus, straight ahead. We walk straight in a church, they gave us drinks and food, and I always thought we got cake, but a piece of white bread would have tasted like cake to me. We heard noises outside and went outside and saw American tanks came rolling through.
Now, the camp Flossenbrg was liberated April the twenty-third, the same day that the tanks liberated usliberated by the [U.S. Army] 90th Infantry Division. I dont know if those tanks belonged to the 90th Infantry Division. I dont know. I will try to research that and find out. They saw how skinny we were and they gave us their food, their rations. Too rich for our body; people died of dysentery. No Red Cross telling me where to go. I slept on somebodys front porch; next morning I wake up, the guy next to me is dead. Another Dutchman and I are trying to get back to Holland, but this is war. Twenty-third, twenty-forth, twenty-fifth of April, the war was still going on, and nowhere was the transportation. They sent us from one town to another town.
In one little town, we befriended ourselves with the American soldiers that were staying there. A man from city hall came around and says, Everybody that has been in a camp, you have to go back to a camp. And I mentioned that to the officers, and he said, You tell him that you been in a camp long enough, for him to go a camp.
The reason was there was tens of thousands of DP [displaced persons] people throughout Germany, and they were afraid for retaliation. And rightfully so, because how we got involvedand Im ashamed of it now. But a bunch of guys, me involved, we got a horse and buggy and raided a German farm. And the German was petrified. We took his food away; he was petrified. So if those other people were not put into DP camps, they would have done the same thing throughout Germany. So there were many DP Camps. And there was one time in a museum there was an exhibition or whatever they call it about DP camps, and they asked me and I said, No, I never been in a DP camp.
We walked from our little town to another one up in Schwarzenfeld, and in Schwarzenfeld were the occupational troops. They took us in, gave us uniforms, and I still remember how the lieutenanthe was Jewishteaching me fork, knife, table English. My German was fluent. I became a translator for the American Army for the division. I worked in the kitchen, I ironed clothes, and to show you how thingsgoing back to my childhood, like stealing. I would give oranges to the soldiers on their plate. And they came in a crate; each orange was wrapped in tissue papernow Im going back to forty-five . When there was still two, three oranges in the crate, I would put it in the elevator, and on the way to the trash canground levelI stopped on the second and third floor where my bed was, and put the oranges underneath the pillow. Now, Im sure if Id asked the soldiers to give some oranges, extra oranges, they would have given them to me, but its just being greedy.
And that brings back the very funny story when I came to the States and I met a doctor and his wife and they invited me over. They lived in New York and I was stationed in Fort Dix [New Jersey]. And they would bakethey made whatever would you like, okay, this and this. They would cook it, and then we had a pie for desert, cherry pie. Would you like another piece? Yep. After I had the second piece: Would you like some more? Yep. And later on they told me, After two, we never ask you again, because you kept saying yes.
PG: Ill never forget that. We never ask you anymore after two pieces, because you keep saying yes. So there, too, with the oranges, and Im sure if Id asked them, they would have given to me.
And a funny thing happened there. We sleeping, him and Ithe other Dutchman and Iin a bunk bed on the second or third floor. On the fourth floor or fifth, top level, there was a factory that made roof slates, you know, those ceramic slates on the roof, and there were all the cots for all the soldiers. And every night there was a head count. Well, the guy that slept underneath me, he traded with one of the soldiers, and the soldier brought the girl, and here theyre having love underneath me. And I didnt know what was going on. I was sound asleep. I remember that so well.
Andbut the factory was working, because I remember when a girl in the tool roomI would stay with her and she invited me to her home, and I came there at night. I had to climb through the window, and as I climbed through the window, the curtain rod fell down and made noise, and her father came down. Well, I high-tailed it out of there. And the next day she told me she got a beating from her dad, you know. (laughs)
CE: So you were still a bad boy.
PG: Yeah. (laughs) I never changed.
So, we finally went back to Holland in a cattle car, the other Dutchman and I. Oh, we had a
CE: Now how long were youbefore you went to Holland? After you were liberated?
PG: April, May, June, July, August, Septemberabout six months.
CE: Six months, so that period of time you are just moving from town to town?
PG: No, no, there was only a couple of days moving from town to town.
PG: You know, maybe a week or so.
PG: Because I didnt know where we spent the nights. I have no clue. And the other Dutchman rode bicyclewe had a motorcycle because they confiscated all motorcycles from Germany. And one time, motorcycles going like this, I said, Jasper, quit it! Well, there was sand and he couldnt quit it, and (whistles) motorcycle went down and the whole side was scraped. We would up in the hospital, but nothing serious happened. I never rode motorcycles again. I still dont. I wont get near one.
So, in Strasbourg we got regular cars, railroad cars, and then in Holland we came to Eindhoven, the (inaudible) factories. We came through there, and its late in the year. They werent too friendly: You still coming back? I mean, they were very unfriendly. They werentthey didnt really welcome you back home.
I stayed with the lady with the two girls. Her uncle had never had children. He adopted me; he paid for the room, food and everything. One day, walking in Amsterdam, I see a girl that lived across the summer place. I tapped her on her shoulder, and she recognized me. Hey, Philip, theres telegrams there. I went there the next day, got a telegram from my aunt, sent her a telegram back, but no return address. So my aunt had to check out with the Western Union, and she screamed so loud when she got the telegram that Charlie Bar, kitty corner, came running over and says, Mrs. Engers, whats the matter? And she tells him that eight, nine, ten months after the war she still find somebody alive from her sisters family.
She arranged for my trip to Aruba, and during that time that I was in Holland, I dug up the backyard and found the jewelry. She arranged for my trip to Aruba, went to Aruba from forty-six  to fifty . I wore long sleeves in the tropics, becauseI dont know; that number almost seems like it was something Id done wrong.
CE: Wow, wow.
PG: I neverin the summer in the tropical climate in Aruba, I wore long sleeves, and I have pictures of that. Even in New York, in 1964 when I started wearing short sleeves, the Japanesethere was a Worlds Fairthe Japanese kept looking at me because I had that number. But nobody talked about it, because when I came to the States in 1950, Any identifying marks? I said, I got this number. Nobody says, Whats this number from; were you in a camp? Nobody spoke about it.
I stayed in Aruba for forty-six  to fifty . I met an American, he married a Belgian girl, and they lived with us. And he says, Phil, this place is not for you. Theres nothing to do for me, no schooling or anything. So he introduced me to Henry Krause, the vice-consul, American vice-consul, they arrange for papers. It took three years, but after one year somebody dropped out, and they asked me if I want to go. My aunt says, Yeah, go ahead.
So I went to the States in 1950 in April, came to New York. Man picked me up at theno, I wentI went to Aruba with a boat, a banana boat to Puerto Rico, and I got deathly sick. And I had bought this watch in 1949, 1950, before I came to the States and it was 350 dollars in those days; it was a lot of money. And I was so scared that I hid it on board ship. And they fed me whiskey and I threw up. They taught me bridge. I love playing cards, and I played good at bridge. Never played it again, but on a six-day trip or five-day, whatever it was, from Aruba to Puerto Rico, I played bridge, and they fed me whiskey and I threw up.
Came to the States, Puerto Rico, Mayagez. Went from there to San Juan, took a plane from there to New York. A man picked me up that Id met, a salesman. He was a Dutchman, but he had lived in New York, and he said, Well, we figured youre pretty tired and we have a party to go to, so my son will stay home with you. I was babysitting his son. If I could have taken the first plane back to Holland, to Aruba, I would have. With him in New York, all these tall buildingsyou know, its a big city when you come from an island like Aruba. And, of course, the food. I ate so much good foodstrawberry shortcake every day, and beef sandwichesbecause Aruba didnt have much. Everything was imported.
I knew another salesman. I says I want to see him. He told me on the subway, Get off in this and this station. Well, Im scared stiff because the subway goes so fast. Stop station, thats not it, thats not it; did I miss it? Did I miss it? Finally I got it. This guy gave me a coat, because it was cold yet, and his secretary got a room for me about three, four houses from where she sleptshe had, I dont know, she lived there or had a roomI dont know. And she told me how to get there, and I said, Look, I have no clue. Ill wait till you get off and you can show me. So we went and I said, Look, in appreciation, I want to take you out. Ive got the money but I dont know anything. So we went out a couple times in New York. And one nightyeah, one night coming home, she didnt have a key. She wound up in my room. I didnt do anything. (both laugh) I was too bashful.
So then I had to registerthe Korean War was going on. I registered, got drafted, and in forty-six  I went to Boston, Camp Devens [Fort Devens, Massachusetts]. And from there they sent us to Camp Stewart [Fort Stewart] in Georgia. Â I found a big difference between the Northern and the Southern, a big difference.
CE: What? What kind of difference?
PG: Much more friendly down South; up North they knew it all. They were smarter, you knowsmart alecks, I should say. I like the South very much. In Camp Stewart, I stayed there and went to Fort Bliss, Texas. I went to schooling. I got vacation here and there. I made out like a bandit. Then I had a cyst on my back, and they operated on me and kept me in the hospital for three months. Because I knew typing, I did typing for them. Colonel I had wooden shoes, I showed them thatthey treated me very good.
But because I stayed in the hospital and had less than three months to serve, they dont reassign you. They discharge you. So I only served twenty-one months. And I went to Fort Leadership School, passed that, but couldnt go to OCS [Officer Candidate School] school because I didnt have a college degree. So I wound up in the [United States] Army, stayed Stateside, never went overseas, got discharged twenty-one months later. Met a girl roller-skatingI love to roller skateand we got married.
And a student asked one time in March 2003, Where did you meet your wife? I said, Which one? And they laugh. I said, Ive been married for twenty-five years to my first wife, and in May of 2003as of May of this year, Ill be married twenty-five years to my second wife. I hope she takes the hint. And then I tell them she didnt; for our twenty-fifth anniversary we went to Aruba, where we met and got married.
Now, what do I tell them? Thirty years, and next month I will tell them Im married thirty-one years. Two daughters by my first wife; they are registered nurses. Daughter by my second wife, who graduated valedictorian from (inaudible) high school, graduated summa cum laude University of Miami. Could have become a doctor, but says, Dad, no way will I be a doctor in America. The medical society or the medical stinks, says its terrible; all they worry about is money.
I took my uncle to the hospital emergency room. A lady throwing up, none of the nurses did anything about it. She says, I went and got a bucket and water and held the lady. She says, No way will I become so She traveled the world quite a bit, and surely she met a boy from New Zealand about six years ago, and he came and stayed with us January, February and March, and he went back to New Zealand around the same time my daughter went to visit her grandparents in ColombiaMedelln, Colombia. And she came back, and then in May that year, she says, Dad, Massey Universityin Palmerston North, New Zealand, will take me. She wanted to go to veterinarian school. She wants to become a veterinarian so she can take care of me when I get old.
PG: Im the old dog to her. So I said, Go ahead. Now, I dont know if she went because of her boyfriend was there or because actually the school took her, because in the States you have to wait two years to get into a vet school, very hard to get in. And she graduatedI think it was 2007, and that will be two years already. Shes married there,. She loves it. And when I talk to USF [University of South Florida], just the other day Roy Kaplan and I told the studentsand he agreed, cause hes been to New Zealandif you ever get a chance to go to New Zealand or Australia, go! People are wonderful; the country is beautiful, energy conscious, very clean. Its nice. When you have an opportunity, go.
CE: Okay, this is tape four, interview of Phil Gans on April 9, 2009, and weve asked his wife Angelica to join us to talk a little bit about the last twenty-fivethirty-oneyears that youve had together. So, Angelica, could you just say your name and spell it for us?
Angelica Gans: Uh, well Hi, my name isI have a little bit of accent because Im from Colombia, South America, so youre going to detect an accent on me. My name is Angelica (A-n-g-e-l-i-c-a), and my last name Gans.
CE: And when did you meet?
AG: We met in Aruba, in the Caribbean, in 1976 around Christmas time. I went there on vacation to see my sister, who was living there at the time, and while I was there we were at the beach with my sister, her husband, my cousin. While the whole group was together I saw a gringo coming.
AG: So, I said to my brother-in-law, Why dont you ask that gringo to take a picture of theall of us. Because I didnt speak English, so my brother-in-law asked him to take a picture, and he did. Bye. That was it.
The next daywell, my cousin and I went back to the beach. Well, there he was again, so he started to talk to me. He thought we were Americans, and I said, No, we dont speak English. But he spoke a little bit of Papiamento, which is the dialect from Aruba and very similar to Spanish in many ways, so somehowand I knew a little bit of English, the one that you learn in high school. Somehow, we started to talk in broken English and broken Spanish. And at the moment, nothing; you know, just very nice man. And the next day I see him again, and here we started talking more and hes telling measking me more questions. And I told him where I was from and my (inaudible) was in Colombia, and so on and so on.
And that was in seventy-six , in December. By April seventy-seven , he was already visiting me in Colombia. So that was an incredible experience for him, for me, for my whole entire family.
PG: But wasnt that the year that I drove by your house and you saw me?
AG: Yes, that is true. That is true. Heits crazy, because at the moment when I met him at the beach, I didnt want to give too much information about where I was staying. My cousin and I were standing in front of my sisters car waiting for the bus to take us to downtown Oranjestad in Aruba. Who comes driving by? Mr. Gans. (laughs) Oh, my God, he stopped, turned around and came and picked us up. (laughs) And so he dropped us off at the downtown. But the time I got back from downtown, he was already sitting on the couch in my sisters house waiting for me. (laughs)
CE: You quit being bashful, then!
AG: Yeah! No, he wasnt bashful at all. He wasnt bashful. There was too many things that were between us that was difficult to overcome. It washe was a foreigner for my family, he was divorced, much older that I was, and he was Jewish and Im Catholic, and so for my family was a little bit difficult to see how this relationship could work. So we let time go by, andwhere was it, in seventywhat year did we get married?seventy-eight!  Seventy-eight , the year after.
PG: Yeah, but in seventy-seven  I went to Colombia.
AG: Yeah, you went to Colombia in seventy-seven , then weI went back to Aruba that Christmas, and then you came back to Colombia in seventy-eight  and thats when we established all the relationship between us and the papers. But I tell you; I received letters every single day from him. Every single day there was letters coming in. That was incredible! And so I came here in May seventy-eight , and we got married May eighth.
PG: Tell them about the beautiful wedding we had.
AG: Yeah, that was funny. (laughs) Yeah, we had a big wedding or anything, cause in Colombia it was very important for my mom that I get a blessing in the church, you know, even though he wasnt part of it. I went to church to get the blessing, but we didnt have any big wedding. I borrowed a dress from my sister, a two-piece (laughs)
PG: I took my ring and put it upside down, remember, for you.
PG: They didnt have money over there.
AG: So everything was just funny. Theywe are like a funny party at home, but it was just fun. We had just fun.
PG: Kentucky Fried Chicken.
CE: All right.
AG: Something like Kentucky Fried Chicken. But it was nice. Then I came here, and thats when my real life started with him. And it was very hard, very difficult
PG: She had no clue what she was coming to. I showed her pictures, but those pictures could have been from anybodys house or anybody. She had no clue where I was living or what. That was hard for her.
AG: Yeah, practically I was blindfoldedhe could have
CE: And you came to Florida?
CE: Or New York?
AG: We went to Delaware. He was with
AG: He was working at the refinery over there at that time. So, actually, I went to New York first and he picked me up in New York, and we lived in Delaware for eight years.
CE: And you worked in a refinery?
CE: What did you do?
PG: Well, its pretty hard. Nobody ever came up with a proper nomenclature. I worked out in the fields, opening and closing valves and taking samples. And then as you become a B operator, they train you for the board, then as an A operator I worked the control boards.
CE: Okay. So tell me more, Angelica, about what made it so difficult?
AG: Well, it was not only adjusting to the country, the language, the customs, [it was] adjusting to him, because hewell, he was used to having somebody that knowsthat spoke English perfect, that knew how to run the house. I didnt even know how to cook, because in Colombia
PG: She still doesnt (inaudible).
AG: In Colombia we gotwe have help, you know. We have a maid, so I was not used to really doing much around the house. And here I have this man, I remember the first week I was in the house, on the table put a bunch of bottles in front of me: lemon Pledge [wood cleaning product], Windex [glass cleaning product], Cascade [dishwasher detergent], Palmolive [dish cleaning product]
PG: She had no clue.
AG: I have no clue how to run the dishwasher, the washing machine
PG: She couldnt close the blinds, you know, those
AG: We didnt have shades in Colombia. We dont have shades.
PG: Because they dont have them. If you dont hold them a certain way everything she pulled down (makes whooshing sound) went back up again. (makes whooshing sound) Back up again. I had to teach her to hold it down.
CE: A whole different world.
AG: It was a whole different world.
AG: And here I have all these bottles in front of me, and I said, What am I going to with all that?
And he said, This bottle is for this, this bottle is for that And its not like I came from the very bad place, its because I never did anything at home, you know. So it was very confusing for me to have all these things at the same time.
He told me I need to learn how to drive, so I learn in Colombia how to drive a car before I came here. I was here probably a month when he came with the keys and said, Well, here you are, you have to drive now. Gave me a huge Cadillac; it was bigger thanmy God, the regular car right now. The size of that car was unbelievable.
So I said, Well, I have no choice but do it. He said, I dont have time to take you anywhere. You have to do it.
I washe enrolled me in classes at the University of Delaware to learn English, so I was probably the only one of all the foreigners that I was driving by myself to the university, because I learned how to go to the university and park the car (laughs) and park the car over there. In fact, we used to take trips to New York City a lot, and I dont know; he had the guts to tell me, You got to drive on the New Jersey Turnpike.
CE: Oh, my!
AG: I know! He said, Im too tired
PG: The reason for that is when I worked in the refinery, I learned that if I had a trainee, I didnt show him how to do it, cause hed never learn. You do it. Tell me what youre going to do; if its wrong Ill tell you to stop. Thats the way they learn. You have to do it yourself. I can show you ten times, and the eleventh time you do it and youre confused.
AG: Well, imagine me, just in this country, I mean driving on the New Jersey Turnpike. I have trucks going by here, going by here, and I said, Oh, God, please dont help mejust help me, that nothing is going to And hes sleeping. Hes sleeping! I dont know how he trusted me, but that taught me how to drive everywhere, learn my way around.
Another difficult thing with him was he didnt let me speak Spanish at all, and my neighbor next door was from Peru, and of course Im going to speak Spanish with her. Boy, he used to get so
PG: Yeah, because they both knew English
AG: No, I
PG: Yes, you went to school, and here theyre speaking Spanish in front of me, and I couldnt understand what they were talking about, cause they rattled so quick.
AG: Anyway, he was very strict that way. And that created a lot of
AG: friction between us. I tell you, he was so stricthe was so strict in everything; everything has to be certain ways, certainand I am telling you, I was completely the opposite, completely the opposite, because I grew up in the Latino environment where we just go, Hey! We do it, we do it, we dont do it so what. Not with him, not with him. It was difficult, it was just plain difficult. I used to go to the store, food shopping. I came home, brought the things, he said, No, you bought everything wrong. This is wrong, this is wrong.
PG: Not everything, but you
AG: But a lot of things wrong, so I said, Oh, now what am I going to do?
He said, You going to takewe are going to take it back.
Oh, okay, you come with me? I said.
And he said, Yeah, I go with you. So we will go to the store. What did he do? He stay by the door and I have to go inside to talk to the people. Forced me!
PG: I was inside too, but I stood in the back because they have a very bad attitude towards Latinos. And then if they said something that I didnt like, I walked up and spoke English to them, I says, Look, you treat them the way you treat everybody else. You know? But thats the way she learned, by doing things for herself. I could have taken it back every time; that didnt help her any.
CE: So did things just gradually improve, or
AG: Things gradually improved in some ways, and then it got even more difficult because I got pregnant. And then Christina [their daughter] came, and it was in a whole new world started with that. But I think for me it was wonderful, because it was a differentnow I have somebody over there, because I have no family, nobody, nothing.
So it was really nice, but Phil was very strict. And that was so hard to live with him that way. I would say there were times that I really wanted to leave, because it was very difficult to be with him the way he was. And I guess what made me stayI dont know it was my upbringing or I just felt that I needed to be with him because it was not fairhe went through so much in life that I just couldnt leave him.
CE: Now howwhat did he tell you about his experiences, initially?
AG: Very little.
CE: Very little.
AG: Very little. Onlythe only thing that I knew was that his parents were gassed and he was in the concentration camp in Auschwitz. His aunt was alive. I dont know, he mentioned his aunt from Aruba, and through her I learned a little bit more about what happened to them, but still everything was not very clear to me how things went because he didnt want to speak uphe didnt want to talk. In fact, when we were in Philadelphia, they had a special celebration one year over there about
PG: I forgotI know what it was.
AG: I dont remember what it was, but it was but it was all about the Holocaust and they were asking survivors to come in this march with their families to go and be part of it. And when I read that in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I said, I want to go with you.
He said, No, I dont want to go.
I said, We want to go; you are a part of it. And Christina will come, too.
Somehow I convinced him, and we sign up and we went to this march. It was beautiful. It ended at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia and everybody will come at the end and bring a flower. Well, Christina was the youngest daughter from a survivor becausebeing older, and Christina was only four or five years oldso they took movies of her putting thedepositing the flower over thereand to me it was the first time that I was ever part of anything concerning to his experience.
But it took me a while to convince him to be part. And even when I have Christina, I want her to learn a little bit more about him, his Judaism and my religion, but he didnt want nothing to do with it. It was like he put a wall right there. He didnt care, so I said okay. You know, I was openI was open to whatever. Philit was something so horrible with him that he just put a wall between his past and whatever happened to him, and I think that make him a very bitter person, angry, with a short fuse, that he will come and react very quick to whatever was going on around him, whether it was the outside people or the family.
Life in Delaware was very difficult for me, not only being away from the family, but the weather was very hard for me, the cold weather. So, we were looking when I asked him if we could move to Florida when he retired from the refinery. He say, Yes.
PG: Say that again?
AG: When you retire
AG: that we move down here to Florida, that I was lucky that you say yes. Right? Â Thats how
PG: I had just bought a big shed, because my workshop was so full I was going to put all my garden tools in the shed I bought, remember? I paid a down payment and I worked up there part-time with a friend of mine in building construction, adding rooms and remodeling and all that stuff, and he went to Florida and we went with him. And we start looking then. My aunt had a place here in Dunedin. And then I came back and I asked the people if they could give me my deposit back, and they did. And then we kept coming down a couple of times and looking at homes, and finally found something.
AG: That was a new beginning. I would say a new beginning for us, especially for me, I would say, because this was the house we bought together, that we startedreally like a new life for us. Still, he was still the same angry man, and thatsI think he mentioned it to youhow things change when he went with his aunt with the lawyer in Holland and he got the psychiatrist.
AG: Did he talk about, with you, about
CE: We really didnt talk on tape about that very muchat all really.
CE: No. Do you want to say a little something about that?
PG: Well, not much to say. I went to [a] psychiatrist. What happened is in Holland, the lawyer said, You should see a psychiatrist, because they had heard from the Dutch consul in California how I always raved and ranted, because I said, You sold us down the river, cause they made a agreement with Germany that they would pay us, but they never paid me the pension. So when I came back here, I called Boston or whatever it was up northMassachusettsand they gave me a list of doctors, but they highly recommended Dennis Donovan and I went to see him. And like Angelica said, all our friends said that definitely made a big difference in me. I didnt have a chip on my shoulder anymore, and I became a better person.
CE: So you found talking to the psychiatrist very helpful. Telling your story?
PG: Oh, yeah.
CE: Yeah, okay.
AG: I think he took so much that he had inside him out and unload with him, because I could see gradually the difference on him. He mellows, he was nicer, more easy goingsometimes temper tantrums or you know, just anger. We could be out in a restaurant and if he didnt like something he would react veryyou know, that I want to go underneath the table and Im not with this man. But absolutely, he makes wonders with him.
PG: He was a nice guy
AG: He is a nice guy.
PG: He quit his psychiatry because too many people owed him money that he didnt collect because he wouldnt go after him. He wouldnt send people to hospitals; he would just talk to them, no medication. He became very good friends with myhim and his wife love me, and through him we go every year to Sioux City, Iowa. I just saw a picture with the toilets over there on which he wrote, Its because of you Im going to Sioux City. Because he was born there, but he didnt have really the money to spenda lot of money to go to Sioux City and spend time there. Â So now, hes going there every year with meisnt that written on that piece of paper there with the toilets?
PG: Right, yeah.
CE: So after the psychiatrist you saw a real difference, and then what happened?
AG: Um, well, I could see the difference with our daughter, because at the beginning he was not very warm with her, and it was a completely a 360 degree. Â He becameI would say the best father you can ever imagine, what he was to Christina. Absolutely incredible, involved completely 100 percent in her school, in whatever project she had to go
CE: What year was this that he went to the psychiatrist?
PG: Nineteen ninety-one, 1992.
CE: So how old was Christina then?
AG: Christina was
PG: Twelve years.
AG: It was
PG: Born in seventy-nine .
AG: Yeah, twelve years, twelve years. Ah, yes, twelve. Thats after we came back from Europe, wasnt it? That was an experience, I tell you. First time we went to Europe together, the three of usit was the first time for me. And we visited Dachau in Germany. We took a trip all around, five weeksrented a car, wow!
PG: Holland, Belgium, France.
AG: Italy, Austria, and the last part was Germany. When we got there, oh, my goodness, it was like he was ready to attack the whole world. And we decided to go to visit Dachau, the concentration camp. To me, it was horrible. He was angry, he was mad, he wasthe reaction was so horrible, and he took it out on me because I guess he didnt wanthe didnt have anyone else to take it out. So, after that I said never again I will go and visit a concentration camp with him after that experience.
CE: And that was all after the psychiatrist?
CE: That was before?
AG: Before the psychiatrist. Before the psychiatrist. And I said, never! I will never do this again, because this is too hard for you, and its too hard for me. Well, I still havent beenI still dont go to any concentration camps. (laughs)
PG: I told her, if they charge an admission, Im going to jump over the gate and tell them I paid my admission. No more.
AG: It was an experience there. It was an experience, and for me it was very hard. It was like a little by little Ive been learning so much, you know, more about what happen to him. But truthfully, I learn all the details more in the last six years that I start listening to his story with all the details. Before that, I didnthe didnt want to tell me and I didnt want to hear it, I guess because it was too much for him and
But this has been, I think, a blessing for our marriage ever since he start talking, and hes making out of this tragedy a something good. Something good. Because hes giving a message to a young generation right now about no hate, or be in peace, or accept one another, and he has a meaning. He had a meaning out of this, and its a difference, its a big difference on him; its like hes a completely different person.
CE: Okay, when did this start? Tell me how it started that you decided to give talks and be involved?
PG: Well, remember the fellow I told you [about], Sam Schryver? Well, he was talking at the Florida Holocaust Museum when they were still on Dune Road inwhat was that beach called? You know, near where Kapok Tree
The Kapok Tree was a prominent Clearwater restaurant that opened in 1958 and closed in 1991.
used to be?
CE: Oh, I do, yes. I dont rememberI know where Kapok Tree used to be.
PG: On Dune Road.
CE: Yes, yes.
PG: He used to talk there all day long; he was the only speaker. And when they built this new one here [Florida Holocaust Museum] in St. Petersburg, one day he said, Phil, why dont you come along? Well, he had asked me several times. Finally, I went one day; it was around ninety-one 2001only a year or two after they opened. We have a round table conference, eight or nine students and teacher. I think there was a docent and a survivor. And he started to talk.
Now one thing he talks about, the concentration camp he was in, Westerbork, and I have told him many times, Sam, you were not in a concentration camp. And the last time we were somewhere at the museum, only about a month ago, and he talked about again Westerbork, but he told me that was nothing like what Phil was in concentration camp. Â He did admit that. But he still calls it a concentration camp, and I told him its not.
But when he stopped talking he says, Wait, Phil has a story to tell you. Well, here I am for the first time opening my mouth in front of five, six kids. Well, it wasnt exactly the first time, but I wasnt very comfortable, and the museum wouldnt let me talk to any big groups.
CE: Okay. And that was 2001?
PG: Around 2001, yeah.
CE: So you had already done that videotape in ninety-six .
CE: Right, right?
CE: With the
AG: From Spielberg [Steven ??]
PG: That was so bad.
CE: But at least you did it, you talked.
PG: I did. I did. They asked me questions. You look at ityou look at the
CE: Oh, Im going to look at the whole thing.
PG: And please call me and tell what your opinion is. Please.
CE: Okay, I will.
PG: Because my daughter wanted the tape. I said, Youll get it after Im dead.
CE: Okay, so back to 2001so that didnt have a real impact on you, doing that tape?
AG: This tape?
AG: No, I dont think so.
AG: I dont think so.
PG: And they only let me talk to small groups, but little by little I was talking to bigger groups. I remember at Palm Harbor University High Schoolits a high school/university combined or somethingIm standing, leaning on a desk on a podium, and they never called me back because they know it was terrible. But the last letter I just got from the teacher, she says, Youre a real pro. You know? I just put the card away because I have improved so much that, like I said, I talk to two thousand students in Sioux City. Of course, I didnt see anybody; they turned the light on me. (laughs) I couldnt see a soul.
CE: Right, right.
PG: VeryI saw some, vaguely, but not withI had no problem talking anymore.
CE: How did it feel when you first started talking? How did it feel to tell the story?
PG: Well, I was nervous. I was afraid of
PG: saying the wrong thing, and stuff like that.
AG: Very emotional.
CE: Very emotional?
AG: Very emotional.
PG: That too, yeah.
AG: Still is, because I can tell when he comes home from any presentation that hes drained, emotionally. And thats the reason I try not to participate when he goes. Id rather stay home that when he come home he finds me in another mood, different than the one he was in. So, heI can tell that hes tired, drained
PG: Oh, yeah. I can go right to sleep right away when I get home.
AG: Yeah. And actually, I can tell you last year he has so many presentations
PG: MayApril and May I had a presentation every day of the week, five. One time I didnt have one on Monday, but I had it on Saturday. For two months in a row, every week five presentation. In June, I went to bed at eight oclock at night, slept till seven, eight in the morning, got up for one hour and back to bed again, slept again for three hours, got up. Angelica [says], Whats wrong with you? I dont know!
Finally I went to the doctor, and the girl in Holland, she told me, Phil, youre talking too much. You have too many presentations. And that eventually was the problem, and it took me the whole month. In June, we wentin July, we went to Colombia and then I had nothing to worry about, nothing. I came back. I was fine. I didnt even work. I couldnt even get myself to do any work. And when I came back
AG: You were drained.
PG: I pressure washed the front of the house, and I did everything again.
CE: Were youwould you call yourself depressed during that time?
AG: Yes, yes, because in fact the doctor prescribed him some antidepressants, because I could tell. I could tell he was completely down, depressed, and I said, From now on, Im going to be checking how many times you be talking, because it is too much.
AG: It is too much. Living himdoing this every single day.
CE: Staying in that
AG: In that mood.
AG: And I said no. Thats not healthy for you. So even thoughI tell you, this is the everyday talk in this house. (laughs)
PG: You what?
AG: We talk about this every day now.
CE: Do you?
AG: Oh, well, everything is around it. Its every day something. It just became his life now, in a different way. In a different way, because I think he want to investigate about more things about what happened there, because he was still very young and doesnt know, or because he wants to add something to his presentation to improve, or whatever.
PG: Thats how I met the guy on the Internet. I saw a fax number there, because they had no address or anything. I saw a fax number. Im going to fax him. The next day I had an answer.
PG: This guy and my psychiatrist want to know how many people are still alive from the Holocaust concentration camp survivor. He said, Ask him. I said, No, you ask him, because you put it in a different way and more questions.
So I asked this guy, Do you mind if my doctor writes you a letter? He said, No.
The doctor wrote him a letter, email. The next day he had an answer. He says, Phil, this man is remarkable.
And I wanted information from Holland, from the Netherlands Red Cross. Im a Dutchman; it took a year! And finally I wrote the Queen [Beatrix of the Netherlands], remember? And when I was in Holland, she [Angelica] called me and said, We just got a letter from the Netherlands Red Cross. It was a hundred and sixty gilders, but were not going to charge you because the Queen told them, Look, this guy waited long enough. And this guy, the next day I have an answer. And the doctor had an answer the next day. It was unbelievable. A very nice guy; I want to go and meet him.
CE: So it seems to me what youre saying is not talking at all was bad for Phil, but overdoing it was exhausting
AG: Its exhausting.
CE: Plus, it sounds likeis this correct that it also depressed him to live in that experience all the time?
AG: Yes. Exactly.
CE: And so now you think theres a balance, more or
AG: Yeah, its the finding the happy medium, finding something different to do. A lot of times I say, Come on, lets go out! Lets do something! You know? Even Sunday I took him to the park. He didnt want to go. (laughs)
PG: We bought a hoagie and then ate it at the park. And then we walked a little bit.
AG: I said, Isnt this wonderful! I said, Look at the water, look at how nice! I took him away from the computer and the same thing over and over and over and over again and (inaudible) to talk about the same thing.
PG: Well, the kids ask so many questions, and I dont always have the answer. So even though I am in a museum many times, I never walked through the whole museum and spent ten minutes or five minutes in any one place to learn about it. I dont know why. But in the computer Im trying to get more and more information, and thats how I wound up with that guy and he sent me those pictures of the latrines of mya copy of the book, the mission book through the Monowitz hospital. I mean, the guys been nice to me.
CE: I also heard you say something about he was learning new things. Did that have an impact on
PG: I was doing what?
CE: That you said, now he was learning new things?
AG: You mean in relation to
CE: To the Holocaust and the experience.
AG: Yes, yes. Yeah.
CE: And you sounded like you were saying that made it more positive for him.
AG: Yes. I think itsI could tell every day, and he learn more and investigate more about the whole thing. It helped him to be more comfortable when he talks and when he stands in front of the people. But I want a little bit less. (laughs) I want a little bit less that when we go out or something, I just want him to put that here and not bring it with him wherever we go.
CE: Okay. Phil, how do you feel about that comment?
PG: Well, what she probably is referring to: I have those cards and I always have them with me. And whenever I go to a restaurant, I give the girls or the guys a card. And one girl came up and said, We [were] just talking about this. Where can I get a dvd [digital video disc]? Â She bought the dvd right then and there, because they were talking about the Holocaust, about Auschwitz III; she specifically mentioned Auschwitz III. And a month or two later we were in Chilis [restaurant chain] in St. Pete or Tampa. I gave the guy a card. He came back outside, bought my dvd, and gave me ten dollars worth of free coupons for Chilis.
AG: What a business. (laughs)
PG: Yeah, Im getting rich from it.
AG: No, my pointmy point is when we are out doing something different, its like I want to just have fun and just
PG: Well, I just give then a card. I dont give them a spiel.
AG: But its always, always come back. Somebody always come back with a remark or whatever. When we were in New Zealand for our daughters wedding, our daughter said, Dad, please she even said to you; we were going to introduce us to all her friends please dont talk about the Holocaust. She made that, because she wanted the meeting to be fun, no bringing back bad memories. And thats my point; thats my point. Â Thats all I want to say. Now, hes doing
PG: My point is, Im getting so involved in this, the more people I tell, the better it is.
AG: I agree with you.
CE: Does it make you feel better?
CE: No, but its better because people are knowing about it.
PG: I talk to ninety-seven hundred students last year, seventy eight hundred students the year before. This year I think were at a very slow spring. I dont think I reachednot even seven thousand.
AG: But its better, because last year was too much.
PG: Well, wait till you hear about Sioux City; that is going to be busy. I have somebody driving me around, and weve been going out for dinners. I have
AG: It will be a diversion in between.
PG: two in one day
CE: Thats good.
PG: one in school and one in (inaudible) gymnasium. Two on Tuesday, one in a school, one in a church, and the lady from the Buena Vista University is going to meet me in the church. She said, They have a dinner planned for you. From five oclock until seven oclock youll be talking, and I and my colleague will be there. So Ill meet her then. Wednesday, I have two; Thursday, I have two; Friday, they have nothing lined up; Saturday, Im coming home.
AG: Its so much.
CE: Yeah, itll be interesting to see how you perceive him when he gets back, whether it was overdone or not.
AG: For me, thats too much.
CE: Were almost at the end of the tape and I just wondered if the two of you have anything you want to say to each other right now, or anything you want to say to the audience.
PG: Well, shes been a good girl. (laughs)
AG: Well weve been together for thirty-one years.
PG: Thirty-one years.
AG: Thirty-one years. Very difficult at the beginning, I would say, very difficult because of our backgrounds, because of what he went through. But right now, I think
PG: I dont know if its her Latino upbringing, but she does everything for me. But she did from day one. When I worked night shift, I came home tired, threw my shirt here, my pens their, my shoes there, and she picked them up. And till todayyou saw itwhen my shoelace is undone, she will tie it. I dontshe does everything for me!
AG: Its not because I want to be like a slave or anything, no.
PG: Thats the way youre brought up in Colombia.
AG: Well, thats how my mom was, but you have to understand I dont work. I dont haveI dont work. Im home; why cant I do those things for him?
PG: She always does everything.
AG: Why cant I do it for him? It doesnt makeit doesnt take anything out from me or anything.
PG: Shes very, very good that way. People cant believe it when I tell them what my wife does; they just cant believe it.
AG: That doesnt bother me. I think this is part of what I supposed to do for him, because he does so much for me.
AG: You know he does so much for me.
CE: That makes sense.
AG: He gave a beautiful life, nice beautiful home. I have a beautiful daughter. I have a very nice life. Thats nothing.
AG: You know, so thats
CE: I have one more question for Phil, and then Ill give you the last word, Angelica. This question probably doesnt have an answer, but Im just wondering, do you have any sense why you survived all this? Why? How?
PG: Students ask me that. What I tell them: hope. Dont give up hope. And the funny thing is, in November of 2008I dont know if eitherany one of you ever read the comics? Hagar the Horrible? Nafa, [speaking to the USF videographer], do you read the comics? You ever read Hagar the Horrible? Well, in November 2008, Lucky Eddie and him are tied with chains to a wall, and he keep talking. Lucky Eddie finally, What keeps us alive? And you know what Hagar said? Hope. And I wonder if his student, his child or somebody heard my presentation, and he picked that up for his comic strip.
PG: Because I always tell the students, dont give up hope. No matter how bad it is, it will get better. So thats one reason. The second reason, in (inaudible), somebody said I had awhat do you call it? Angel, a guardian angel.
AG and CE: Guardian angel.
PG: Guardian angel. They passed by our house in forty-two . I didnt go to the Jewish orphanage. I didnt go to the little town, Putten
Putten was the site of a very large Nazi raid in 1944.
. At the selection I was told to go to the left. Four times I crawled through the eye of a needle. Unbelievabletheyre really five. I forget which one the fifth one was. But its unbelievable howoh, not going to that little town. I think I missed that, I dont know. But four or five times I came this close. So I told the kids, dont give up hope.
CE Do you want to say something?
AG: Ah, yes. That is true, because I see it on him. Hes very optimistic in many ways. Optimistic, I would say. When it comes to pain, it doesnt bother him. Pain is nothing to him, physical pain; he takes it so unbelievable. Thats probably why he endured and he survived, because he just goes through pain like nothing. And he always said, Dont think, think positive! Dont ever dwell in your pains and that youre aching. And the mentalhes mentally very tough, and I think that helped him.
CE: Okay. Thank you, both of you, so very much.
AG: Thank you very much.
PG: Thank you.
AG: Thank you very much. Its been a pleasure.
CE: Its been just wonderful.
AG: I have never done this before in my life.
PG: Shes a better talker than I am.
AG: No, Im not going talk to
CE: Shes fantastic.
AG: Im not a very good talker, but I just like to talk. (laughs)
CE: This is an experience I will never, ever forget.
AG: Thank you very much.
CE: No matter how long I live.
PG: Thank you.
AG: Very, very sweet. Thank you.
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