Tiger Talks brings Holocaust survivor Elly Gotz to NNHS on Feb. 24

Students packed the Newton North auditorium on Feb. 24, 2020, to listen to a compelling presentation by Holocaust survivor Elly Gotz. The talk was organized by the NNHS History Department and Rabbi Shalom Ber Prus of Beth Menachem Chabad. The talk was paid for through the PTSO's Educational Excellence fundraising campaign to bring speakers to NNHS, called Tiger Talks. Thank you to all parent/guardian donors!

Mr. Gotz, 92, is a retired engineer, businessman, and pilot. He lives in Toronto and has traveled worldwide, speaking with thousands of students about his experiences.

Here are some key points from the talk.

  • "Living in a free country is a blessing.”
  • Elly was born in Kovno, Lithuania, a small country between Germany and Russia.
  • By June 1941, the German army had taken over all of Europe and a large part of Russia; Lithuania was occupied by Germany in 1941.
  • Jewish families were forced to turn over valuables and books to German soldiers. The soldiers handed Elly’s father a receipt for the items they stole. 
  • After several months of German occupation, Jewish families in Kovno were moved to a ghetto surrounded by barbed wire.
  • Children in the ghetto were not allowed to attend school, so Elly missed school for three years beginning at age 13.
  • Elly read books on his own to continue educating himself.
  • Two-thirds of Jews in Lithuania died in first five months of the war; only 3 percent survived the war.
  • On October 29, 1941, a guard in a watchtower sorted the families in the ghetto into two groups; about 20,000 were spared, but about 10,000 men, women, and children were killed by machine gun and buried in trenches. Elly saw the guard eating a sandwich while he did the sorting.
  • After escaping the ghetto, Elly and his family hid in a basement for several days.
  • His mother, a nurse, brought syringes with a toxic amount of medicine so they could die together rather than be captured.
  • “Will my mother be strong enough to give me the injection?”
  • They were almost discovered by German soldiers searching the basement.
  • After several days, the family left the basement; with 300 fellow citizens, they boarded a train to an unknown destination.
  • Elly and his father were transported to Dachau, the first concentration camp Hitler built, near Munich, Germany.
  • “Lice, disease, total hunger, medical experiments, torture, gas chamber, shootings.”
  • The prisoners slept on wooden boards in wooden huts.
  • They were allotted one black coffee, one bowl of vegetable soup, and one slice of bread per day.
  • No bathing was permitted; they wore same clothes for ten months. 
  • “Please don’t believe the Holocaust deniers when we [survivors] are gone.”
  • Elly worked on building a bomb-proof factory for the manufacturing of planes. 
  • 870 people (one-third of camp population) died during the ten months Elly was there. 
  • The camp was liberated by American soldiers ten months after Elly arrived.
  • “The Americans are here! We made it!"
  • Elly weighed 70 pounds, and his father weighed 65 pounds and was near death.
  • After WWII, Elly learned that the Germans had built 40,000 concentration camps.
  • Elly spent six months in the hospital after he was liberated. When he was discharged, his mind was full of hate for the Germans, and he wanted to kill people. One day, he had an epiphany: “Forget the hate. It is killing you. When I stopped hating, I started to live for the first time. Buddha taught that hating is like taking poison and hoping the other person will die.”
  • After the war, Elly was reunited with his mother and aunts. 
  • Eventually he went to night school to become an electrical engineer (1952). 
  • He got married, started multiple businesses, had children, and learned to be a pilot.
  • At age 89, to celebrate Canada’s 150th birthday, he went skydiving!
  • “Don’t spent time hating people who have hurt you. Hating is a waste of time.”
  • "Be curious about people who are different from you and you will discover a common humanity."

See photos on the the NNHS PTSO Facebook page.