Penning this kind of farewell is always difficult.
That is certainly the case following the passing of 96-year old Shirley Gottesman, who was reportedly thought to be Staten Island’s last living Auschwitz survivor. And while Shirley often shared her testimony with school students across the borough as a public speaker and author, it is her longevity and heartfelt experiences that help keep Shirley’s memory alive three weeks after her passing.
Shirley’s Holocaust survivor story was told locally back in 2018 by the Staten Island Advance.
Growing up in Záluz, Czechoslovakia, Shirley Gottesman lived on a farm with her family, including: parents Laizer Berger and Blima Weinberg Gottesman; four siblings, Moshe Lieb (Martin), Fiaga, Ester and Rifka; grandparents Malka and Zalman Berger; two aunts, Helen and Pepe Burger, and Uncle Leib Berger.
With a constant supply of potatoes, beans, vegetables and fruit, her father was a farmer. Cows, chickens and geese roamed the fields. Shirley’s mother was a seamstress.
But in April 1944, everything changed.
Shirley’s family was forced to pack up and move to the ghetto.
Shirley’s riveting book, “A Red Polka-Dotted Dress: A Memoir of Kanada II,” details her experiences in Auschwitz and Kanada II.
Kanada was a warehouse in Auschwitz that collected the belongings of those who were killed, according to ushmm.org. Auschwitz prisoners who worked in Kanada had to sort through the valuables and ship them back to Germany. Because Shirley worked there, she had access to extra clothes, shoes and food.
The nearly two-hour interview with Shirley ended with a powerful quote. “Life Leads you. You are put in places that you have a chance to survive. Is it good or bad? God knows.”
Prior to the 2018 story and video interview with the Staten Island Advance, Shirley also took part in the Oral history interview with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where she recounted how the Theresienstadt (in Northwestern Czechoslovakia) concentration camp she was in was liberated on May 8, 1945. Following her time living in the Czech free zone, Shirley eventually immigrated to the United States in 1949.
From the Staten Island Holocaust Center, we’d like to send our condolences to Shirley’s family and friends for their loss.
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