Some employees at Northrop Grumman’s Technical Services Sector in Herndon got a rare first-hand look into early World War II history on Tuesday when Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin, 85, spoke as part of the company’s Diversity Awareness Month program.
Born March 28, 1928, in Siauliai, Lithuania, Godin was 13 when Nazi troops first marched through her town.
“Back then the main road to Russia from Germany went right through Lithuania,” she said.
Not long after, on June 26, 1941, she said Nazi Germany occupied Siauliai and put into effect their anti-Semitic laws, requiring all members of the Jewish community to wear a yellow Star of David.
“Jewish children were prohibited from attending school, and Jewish businesses were confiscated,” she said. “In the weeks that followed, the Nazi Einsotzgruppen (mobile killing units), Lithuanian police and military officials rounded up 1,000 Jewish men and boys under the pretense of cleaning up the damage done to the city by the occupation. Instead, they took the Jewish men and boys to the nearby Kuziai Forest, where they forced them to dig large pits before telling them to take off their clothes. They then shot the men and boys and buried their bodies in the pits they had made them dig.”
Godin said that evening a neighbor came to her parents house to tell them that the makeshift cemetery was “moving.”
“I did not know what that meant, but I soon found out,” she said. “The Nazis had not bothered to check if all the men and boys were actually dead before burying them. Some were not, and they were trying to dig themselves out of the graves.”
In August 1941, Godin and her family were forced to move into the Siauliai ghetto.
On Nov. 5, 1943, approximately 1,700 people including her father and more than 1,000 children were deported to Auschwitz where she said they were killed in the gas chambers.
Godin, her mother, and her two brothers managed to avoid this fate because they were at work outside the ghetto when the deportation selection took place.
“In the ghetto, Jewish women were not allowed to have babies, but babies happened anyway,” she said. “Mothers tried to hide them but the Germans would often discover them and kill them.”
In 1944, Godin said the few Jews remaining in the Siauliai ghetto were deported to the Stutthof concentration camp near Danzig, Poland. Godin said she became prisoner “number 54015” and was separated from her mother and brother Jecheskel. Her other brother, Menashe, evaded deportation with the help of a gentile friend, and remained in hiding, she said.
In the camp, Godin said older Jewish women looked after her, protecting her and advising her on how to survive. “They would make me stand tall and pinch my cheeks to get the blood flowing in them when the Germans came around to take sick people away to the gas chambers,” she said. “If you looked sick, there was a good chance you would be chosen to die. Those women saved my life. ”
She was eventually deported to four other slave labor camps, including one in which she was made to dig large holes in fields to prevent allied tanks from being able to advance through them.
“I am sure everyone in this room knows more about tanks than me,” she said to the audience of Northrop Grumman employees.
In January 1945, when she was 16, Grodin said she was sent on a forced death march with a group of approximately 1,000 fellow female prisoners that lasted six weeks, marching from sunup to sundown with inadequate shoes and clothing in terrible weather conditions.
“When the Soviet army liberated the group on March 10, 1945, only 200 women, including me, were still alive,” she said. “On my 17th birthday —18 days later — I only weighed 69 pounds, but I had survived and I was free.”
Godin was eventually reunited with her mother and brothers, including Jecheskel, who had been liberated from the Dachau concentration camp. Her mother, Sara, then decided that either she or Nesse would need to marry.
“My mother was 47, so I volunteered,” she said. When she was still 17, Godin’s mother asked Yankel Godin, a survivor from Poland, to marry her daughter and join their family. Nesse and Yankel, now 91, were married shortly after, and have remained together for nearly 70 years.
“I have three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren,” she said.
Godin says she has dedicated her life to telling people about the Holocaust and the women who saved her.
“Just saying ‘never again’ is not enough,” she said. “In the concentration camp I used to cry to God to let me die, and older Jewish women would say to me ‘you don’t need to die. You need to survive and if you do, do not let us be forgotten.’ That is why I am here today. I am fulfilling that promise.”