Holocaust Survivor Uses Personal Experiences to Teach Life Lessons

International Holocaust Remembrance Day Jan. 27  

Nesse Galperin Godin is a Lithuanian survivor of the Holocaust who has been an inspirational speaker at American Legion Auxiliary (ALA) Girls Nation for over a decade. Godin was only 16 when she was separated from her family in Lithuania during the Nazi invasions in World War II. She survived the ghetto, four labor camps, one concentration camp, and a death march before the war ended and she was reunited with her mother and two brothers.

“The atrocities and hardships that Nesse faced are inconceivable to most people,” said Past National President Janet Jefford. Yet when you meet her or hear her talk, you can’t help but feel love, warmth, and hope for a better America and a kinder, more respectful world.”

Godin enjoyed a wonderful childhood with a close-knit family and many friends in the diverse and democratic city of Siauliai, Lithuania. But her childhood ended all too soon on June 26, 1941, when German forces invaded Siauliai, and the Nazis began the systematic persecution of the Jewish community. Many of the Jews in Siauliai were forced into a ghetto surrounded by barbed wire. The Nazis regularly made the Jews go through a selection process to determine who should be sent to concentration camps and who should remain. During one of the selections, Godin’s father was chosen and sent to the gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Godin’s family.

Over the next year, Godin was shuttled through four different labor camps. The work was hard, and there was so little food that many starved to death. Godin weighed 69 pounds when the labor camps were liberated. In the camp, Jewish women looked after Godin, advising her on how to survive, wrapping her in straw to keep warm, and comforting her when the guards abused her. They made her promise that if she survived, she would not let them be forgotten and teach the world what hatred, indifference, and prejudice can do.

Godin kept that promise.

In 1950, she emigrated to the United States and settled in Washington, D.C., with her late husband Jack, also a Holocaust survivor. They were married 67 years and have three children, seven grandchildren, and 11 great-grandchildren.

“My husband and I have dedicated our lives to teach what hatred can do,” Godin said. “I took my pain and suffering and anger and chose to teach what happened during the Holocaust. I hope that my sharing memories will teach everyone to make a better world for all the people of the world.”

Godin volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum where she shares her experiences with visitors. As a guest speaker at ALA Girls Nation, her visits have been a highlight of the experience for the girls as she encourages them to value diversity, practice tolerance, and stand up for what is right.

Nesse Godin-18-1
Godin speaks to ALA Girls Nation participants in 2016.

“Nesse reminds all of us that freedom is a precious gift and that choosing love over hatred and tolerance over judgment are essential to a free society and a peaceful world,” Jefford said. “Nesse is an inspiration to me, and she has inspired countless young people at American Legion Auxiliary Girls Nation with her personal accounts of the Holocaust.”

Godin has received numerous awards for her many contributions and courage. In 2015, she was named the 2015 American Legion Auxiliary Woman of the Year for her tireless efforts in educating our youth of the lessons learned through the Holocaust, why we should be proud Americans, and to always love and care for one another. That same year, she was also the recipient of The American Legion National Commander’s Public Relations Award and she received an award from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum for her 25 years of dedication to volunteer work.

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