‘I am…a survivor’

'I am…a survivor'
Nesse Godin admitted at the beginning of her talk to an audience of University of South Dakota students Thursday night that she is far from being eloquent.

"I don't know what they told you about me," she said in her strong European accent. "Maybe you came to hear a speaker. I'm not a speaker, I'm not a lecturer. What I am is a survivor of the Holocaust.

"And I'm here especially to speak to all of you young people for one reason only: to share memories. I do this so you will hear the truth, and you will understand and, most of all, never, never allow atrocities like the Holocaust on humanity ever again," she said.


Godin addressed a capacity crowd at USD's Old Main Thursday. Her appearance in Vermillion was made possible by the Program Council. USD's chapter of Amnesty International, part of a worldwide movement of people who campaign for internationally recognized human rights, also played a role in bringing Godin to campus.

Godin is a survivor of the Shauliai, Lithuania Ghetto, the Stutthof concentration camp, four labor camps and a death march.

She told her Vermillion audience that many times, people have commented that she must be very smart, or very strong, and that's why she lived at a time when millions died.

"Let me tell you, I'm not too smart or too strong," Godin said.

She credits her survival to the Jewish women who gave her support as they somehow survived the horrible ordeal of the labor camps.

"All through the Holocaust, I was a little girl that prayed to the God Almighty," she said. "I would talk to God. I'd say, ?Dear God, let me live through the day; maybe I'll be free.' At night, I would say, ?Dear God, let me sleep through the night, and maybe I'll be free.' "

She finally reached a point, after seeing many of her friends' and relatives' bodies stacked like firewood, where she would lay on her straw bed and beg for God to allow her die.

"The women I was living with said, ?Little girl, don't ask to die � ask the Lord to live. Because who wants you dead? The Nazis. Your family, maybe somebody will survive. Try to live an extra day. Here's a piece of bread. Don't cry, little girl.' "

Godin was born in Shauliai, Lithuania, where she lived with her parents and two brothers until the Nazi invasion.

She has fond memories of her childhood and her hometown, where she was surrounded by friends and family. Her hometown, she said, was a place where everyone cared for each other.

But, she said, she remembers that signs of hatred began to appear in her country � signs of terrible things to come.

"We began to see signs of hatred painted on people's homes, on places of worship and on gravestones in cemeteries," she said. "I remember in those days my parents taking a bucket of water and soap at night to wash those things away. But those things don't wash away."

In June 1941, when she was 13 years old, the German army marched through her country in three days.

Later, special German forces designed solely to kill people began sweeping through the land, she said. "They grabbed Jewish men and boys. They took them to a jail with promises of relocation. Then one night, 1,000 men were taken to a place, they were forced to dig a trench in the ground, they were lined up naked and they were shot.

"This was the night, at the age of 13, that I knew that the Holocaust was happening to me."

It was the beginning of a nightmare that would last for years, and include life in a ghetto, then months in a labor camp where she and other women dug trenches to stop enemy tanks.

Godin was only 16 years old in 1944 when she and others were put on a cattle car to an unknown destination. They ended up at Stutthof where they were told to strip and take a shower.

It really was a water shower and not poison gas. "We were lucky," she noted sadly. The women and girls stood naked for hours, and then were searched in every cavity of their bodies for "gems."

Godin survived the camp and a forced death march from January to mid-February 1945. The prisoners were told to dig two holes � one for a toilet and the other graves.

The women who helped Godin live by lifting her spirits, or sneaking an extra bite of bread to her past the prison guards, told her to never forget her experiences.

"They said, ?Promise us that you will tell the world what hatred and indifference and prejudice can do,'" she said.

Her expertise has been priceless in documenting the plight of Jewish people during World War II. She has received numerous national awards, and in 1990, the Maryland Commission on Women chose Godin as one of the "Unsung Heroines of the State of Maryland," where she has lived since 1950 with her husband, Jack.

She has also been honored by the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Security Agency for her work on the Holocaust Days of Remembrance.

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