This week in the Research Forum, Holocaust Survivor Micha Gelber shared his story with Cohort VI.
Micha was born in 1935 in the Netherlands. His memories began in 1940 at age five when the Germans invaded. He recalled the Nazi restrictions placed on him and his family, from not being permitted to leave their village, to having the family’s house confiscated and going in and out of hiding. Fortunately, Micha’s father was well-informed through the company he worked for and by local connections and was warned in advance when there would be waves of arrests. In 1943, however, when a Dutch policeman warned them of further arrests, Micha’s father, who had been given information that the family would be receiving Red Cross exchange certificates, decided not to go into hiding. As a result, the family was sent to Westerbork, but did receive confirmation that the Nazis intended to keep them alive to be exchanged for German nationals living in Palestine. That certificate was one of the reasons why the family was able to survive together throughout the rest of the war.
Micha and his family spent five long months in Westerbork until 11 January 1944 when they were sent to Bergen-Belsen. At Bergen-Belsen they were kept in the Sternlager (Star Camp), which was comprised of other Jewish prisoners who were expected to be exchanged. Prisoners of the Sternlager did not have their heads shaved, kept their own clothing, and were not tattooed with a number. This is only because the Nazis benefited from the prisoners’ “wellbeing” for the purposes of the human exchange. At night, men and women were separated, but during the day, the families could spend time together and interact. As lucky as Micha and his family were to survive, they did not escape the traumas of Bergen-Belsen. Micha and his father suffered from typhus and it was impossible to avoid witnessing the inhumanities of such a camp. Micha recalled seeing people collapse and having their clothes stolen from them while they were still alive, as well as seeing dead bodies pile up around them. Micha also told our students how fortunate his family was to survive, stating that only 6 out of 1250 families in the Sternlager survived completely intact. Micha attributes this survival to luck, but also to strength and resistance. On 10 April 1945, just days before the British arrived at Bergen-Belsen, Micha and his family were deported east, either for extermination or to be used for trading with the Russians. While en route to whichever was to be their fate, they were liberated by the Red Army.
Micha today lives in the Netherlands and spends his time giving lectures weekly at schools and universities. He believes that speaking about his experiences is perhaps a way of digesting his trauma. Despite his story, Micha says he has always been active and takes life as it is. He considers himself a survivor and not a victim. This is his character and his spirit.
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