by Lisa Alford

Gela was born in Rakow, Poland.  She had two brothers and two sisters.  The Nazis invaded Poland in September 1939.  In 1942, the Jews were ordered to leave everything and were informed they would be deported in one hour.  Although they were promised larger food rations and better living conditions, the family suspected a ruse and hid in the forest instead.  During the winter they found shelter in a farmer’s stable and slept on straw.  When the farmer fed the cows, he brought food for them. In the spring, Gela and her family returned to the forest with about thirty other Jews.  They were hounded but always escaped.

Gela later traveled to Germany with a false birth certificate, pretending to be a Catholic Pole.  She walked for two days to Kielce, where the Nazis were organizing transports of Poles to Germany to work as slave laborers.  She made up a story of running away to be with her boyfriend, who was in Germany, because her parents objected to him.  The Nazis believed her story and took her as a slave laborer.  Once in Germany, she worked for a while for a family of Nazis, work which involved carrying heavy milk cans to and from the dairy store.  In their house was a portrait of Hitler posed with their son, son-in-law, and a high-ranking SS officer.  Gela felt she was in the lion’s jaw but had to be extremely cautious not to show it.

Later she worked in a household with a butcher shop and often served Nazi officials at dinner.  One of the sons saw the liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto and the uprising.  Even more frightening, Gela realized that some of the sons and husbands of the Germans she served actually worked in concentration and death camps.  She was literally living among perpetrators!  Their indifference to the suffering somehow made it possible for them to witness the atrocities committed in the camps.

American soldiers liberated Gela in the spring of 1945.  The soldiers gave each person an orange, which she remembers being the sweetest orange she had ever eaten.  Surprisingly, Gela determined not to hate, as she realized hatred would turn her heart sour and make her like the Nazis.  The memory of the sweet orange has remained with her ever since.