Radviliskis (Lithuania), Stutthof, Dachau
Gloria Pesis, nee Kagan, was born in Radviliskis, Lithuania in April 1919, the youngest of seven children, six girls and one boy. Her sisters names were Luba, Bertha, Sarah, Fania, Eda and
Gloria had no mother, but was raised in a loving household by her older sisters and her father. His profession was to prepare sheep wool to material and he also dyed the fabrics.
They lived in a small town where all her older sisters went to high school. Gloria was sent away to a private school, but was very homesick and was allowed to return home to her family.
She married Jacob Ringer in 1937. He worked with leather and they lived in a small apartment across from her Father. There were about two hundred Jewish families in her town and she belonged to many Jewish organizations.
Her Father was a religious man and, on Friday night, he went to shul, which was next to their apartment. Her mother’s family was from South Africa, where her three oldest sisters went there to stay with an uncle.
Daily life started to become dangerous in 1933. The town people became antagonistic to the Jews and especially to the rabbis. Beatings occurred constantly.
A neighbor, who was a lawyer, came to their house and said “get out quickly.” When the war started, the family, including sisters Fanya, Luba, her husband and his family, all went to a farm. Gloria was then in her fifth month of pregnancy and remembers that they took nothing but the clothes on their backs and ran. Her father managed to take a loaf of bread.
Six hundred people were sent to a camp and worked cleaning Jewish homes so that the Germans could move into them. They had bread, tea and vegetables, but very poor sanitation existed.
On July 12th, at three in the afternoon, one hundred twenty three Jews were killed including her father and her husband. The women and children were taken to another camp and men were told to dig their own graves. Some were buried alive.
Fanya, Luba and Gloria were sent to the Shavel (Siauliai) Ghetto as they had permits that allowed them to go there. They lived in one small room with a small kitchen. Gloria’s two sisters had three children between them and one mother-in-law. The food was so scarce that they were starving.
Her sisters were sent to work, cleaning train rails and the cobblestone strees. Lithuanians guarded the ghetto.
When Gloria was nine months pregnant, she went into labor and ran all the way to the hospital as nearby hospitals would not let her in. Her daughter was born on October 6th. She tried to breast feed, but didn’t have any milk. One night, a mouse scratched the baby and a doctor living nearby told her to let her baby die because they were all going to die very shortly. Gloria asked to be transferred to another camp, a working camp.
She took her daughter who at the time was almost two years old, as well as her mother-in-law to Linkaiciai where she worked in the kitchen. She cleaned the train rails while her mother-in-law babysat. Gloria had a kind neighbor, Stanislaw Dobshish, who gave her food.
In October and November, the children were taken away. All three of her nieces/nephews were gone. Gloria took her daughter to a neighbor. The children were never heard from again. Her daughter went from neighbor to neighbor. She was in Linkaiciai until 1944 where she made the coffee for the Jewish prisoners. Graves surrounded the Ghetto.
In 1944, she and a sister left for Germany, being transported in trains. The trip lasted three days and nights. They were packed into windowless cattle cars and were given dry bread to eat. There was no water.
Stutthof was worse . . . there were lots of people there and the men and women were separate. They were first sent to the showers which frightened the three sisters, Luba, Fanya and Gloria. They all carried many hidden diamonds.
They slept outside and were made to line up with about two hundred other people, and were then packed into another train, this time going to Dachau. One hundred slept in one hut. They were given green water to drink and one piece of bread per day.
It was here that she met her next husband, Albert Pesis. Luba threw away her diamonds. The Germans wanted two thousand men and two hundred women to work, so they boarded trains again. They worked from 5 a.m. until 6 p.m. Gloria did hard labor, mostly construction, and was given lunch and green water. She wore a skirt and jacket that she washed every night. They had no underwear. The women slept on wood and straw and were given two blankets each. There were German guards.
When she felt ill, she wasn’t forced to work, but was given no medicine and when typhus hit, they were all locked in and any pregnancies were hidden.
Gloria never wanted to die and not one person committed suicide.
In Dachau she saw death. When the war was almost over, the Germans walked the prisoners to Munich, running from the Americans. On May 2nd, the Germans left entirely. Her sister stole four hundred cigarettes and traded them for shoes. They had existed for ten months with one piece of clothing.
Some of the prisoners ran into the German houses to steal. It took Gloria one year to find her sister.
She needed no medical care, but her sister was in a sanitarium for a few months. The Americans gave her clothes and blankets.
Somehow, she got a letter from Italy, telling her that her daughter was alive. Her aunt had taken her baby from the Lithuanian family.
One of her sisters was in Warsaw where her legs had frozen and, one night before the end of the war, were sawed off. She said she didn’t have her children so she had no will to go on. Eventually, she did go to Israel in 1976 and lived until 1985. She visited the U.S. in 1966 and left Russia in 1976 where she had been living until she left for Israel.
Gloria married Albert in 1945. She spent every moment trying to get her daughter from Italy, even contacting Senator Lehman and Eleanor Roosevelt. She got help from Graham and Joe Orley, Louis Berry and Judge Benjamin Burdick.
She said that Richard Nixon helped to get her daughter out. It was a miracle. She hadn’t seen her since she was two and when she saw her again, she was eighteen.
She had two sons with Albert, Jacob and Solomon, both of whom are dentists. When she arrived in America, she first went to New York, then New Jersey and finally to Detroit and lived with the Goldbergs on Dexter and Cortland. Her husband became a tailor. He died in 1980.
Her daughter settled in Israel, is married and has four children.
Interviewer: Donna Sklar
Format: Video recording