Meet Holocaust survivors Matilda and Samuel Gertel. Born in Uściług, Poland (now Ukraine), Matilda (née Topole) was just a teenager when the war broke out. When the Nazis invaded, she immediately ran home only to find that her father had been killed as an example to others. Matilda, along with her mother and two sisters, tried to escape across the border. But the man they paid to take them across the river threw them overboard and bashed them on the head with his oar. Matilda was the only one who came out alive. She was then on the run by herself and lived in constant fear. For the last 18 months of the war, Matilda was hidden in the home of Mrs. Lapinskaya, recognized as Righteous Among the Nations in 1988.
Samuel was born in Hrubieszów, where he had a wife and young son. At the start of the war, he managed to sneak across the border to Russia, where he planned to find a safe place for his family. However, Sam was captured and sent to a forced labor camp in Siberia. After the war, he desperately searched for his loved ones, but learned that his wife and little boy had been murdered and buried in a mass grave.
Matilda and Samuel met in 1945 while living with a group of survivors. They soon married and then made their way to the Zeilsheim DP camp in Germany before immigrating to the U.S. in late 1948. They settled in NYC, raised two daughters, and had four grandchildren, who brought them so much nachas. Today, they have 7 great-grandchildren who carry on their legacy.
Photo: Matilda and Sam at their daughter’s wedding.
Contributor: Jill G. Mundinger