German Invasion and Occupation

Concentration Camp and Liberation

Postwar and Reflections


Mala [Annotator's Note: née Gerstner] Geldner came from Chrzanów, Poland. The war started in 1939 [Annotator's Note: the German military invaded Poland in September 1939]. Geldner's aunt had just been married. Young Geldner witnessed the bombs falling from enemy planes. She was a 12 year old child at the time and paid little attention to what was happening. She was born in July 1927. It did not take long for changes to be enacted by the Germans after they arrived. Geldner's family had to give up one room of their small apartment. People from Oswiecim , or Auschwitz [Annotator's Note: Auschwitz or Oswiecim, Poland] came into the apartment. Geldner was unaffected by the changes until two years later when she had to go to work at 14 years of age. In 1943, her city was made free of Jews, "Juden Frei." Geldner never returned home nor saw her family again. She had two siblings, an older brother named David and a younger sister. Both of her siblings, as well as her young parents, died in the war. It was 1943. She was sent to a factory dedicated to making German army uniforms. She receives a pension from those efforts. She was 13 years old and working eight hours each day. She was with her family at the time but had little to eat. Additionally, severe restrictions were placed on them. Her parents were very nice people but Geldner remembers little of them. The Germans removed her from the textile factory when they made the city free of Jews. People were gathered in a city center. Children were put in sacks and taken away on trucks. The German official in charge made a motion with this hand to indicate the direction each person took. One way was to death and the other was to a concentration camp.


Mala [Annotator's Note: née Gerstner] Geldner was sent to the Oberstadt working camp [Annotator's Note: Comthurey Oberstadt, or Comthurey farm laborers' settlement in Mecklenburg, Germany; a subcamp of the Ravensbrück concentration camp] in Deutschland [Annotator's Note: Germany]. Bunk beds were three tiered. Geldner and a friend took a top bunk. There was little to eat. The inmates were rudely awakened early in the morning. She was a little girl of 13 or 14 years of age working a massive machine producing yarn. The work was from five in the morning until evening. When the inmates fasted for Yom Kippur [Annotator's Note: Day of Atonement, holiest day of the year in Judaism], the guards elected to keep food away from them for another meal. They went to sleep hungry. Geldner was chosen to go to the concentration camp in lieu of death just by the whim of the man making the selections. He pointed right or left with one side going to the working camp and the other to Auschwitz [Annotator's Note: Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp complex in German occupied Oswiecim, Poland]. Geldner stayed two and a half years in the camp. She had a personal ring that she hid every day in different place in her straw mattress. The ring survived the war and now belongs to her granddaughter. The last time Geldner saw her parents, brother and sister was when she was removed from her hometown. She had no idea as a child what had happened to her relatives. The overseers did not want the inmates to know what was happening to the others. Just prior to her liberation, she was in a sick room for the inmates. She was suffering with gall bladder problems. Her glasses had been taken away, so she was assigned to clean streets. A German doctor provided her glasses without cost. She remembers his compassion. There was a female sadist who took care of the young captive girls. She teased the girls with a mouse and made them put it in their mouths. The Germans watched the workers. The inmates feared their overseers. The prisoners thought they would die in captivity. They knew they had no family left. Lice were in the camp. Some inmates had their heads shaved because of that. She thought her cousin was her uncle because it was hard to recognize people. Russian troops liberated her on 8 May [Annotator's Note: 8 May 1945]. The Americans came later and provided food. The Americans opened the warehouse and told the inmates to take anything they wanted. Geldner never ate the food because of her Jewish background. She was reluctant to eat anything stored in the storeroom. When Geldner went home to Poland, she traveled on the top of the train. When her non-Jewish girlfriend turned her away, Geldner decided not to live in Poland any longer. It was no place for her.


Mala [Annotator's Note: née Gerstner] Geldner reached the United States by airplane [Annotator's Note: in 1952]. There was a nice Polish stewardess who spoke her language and brought food to her. Geldner was never in a displaced persons camp. She lived in the city of Straubing [Annotator's Note: Straubing, Germany]. That was after going back to Poland and deciding she did not want to live there any longer. She returned to Germany and Straubing where her cousin had a store. She worked there from 1945 to 1952. She came to America because it opened its doors to the Jews. Germany was better than Poland. The Poles were worse than the Germans in their treatment of Jews. Geldner was treated fine in Germany. She married a concentration camp survivor there. He had been imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen [Annotator's Note: Bergen-Belsen concentration camp near Bergen, Germany]. They met in a restaurant. He was older than Geldner and she preferred it that way. They married in 1949 and later came to New York [Annotator's Note: New York, New York]. She was struck by how dirty the Bronx [Annotator's Note: the Bronx is one of the five boroughs in New York, New York] was. She has friends in the Bronx. She has a problem dealing with what happened to her. She has to cope with the loss of her sister and brother. She believes people should be kind to each other. School students need to understand what happened so that it does not recur. Museums are very important in that regard. Geldner sees the picture in her mind's eye of what happened to her at 14 years of age. Many of her friends have passed away. Inmates within the concentration camp did not trust each other. There was a repetitive way of life. She would wake early in the morning and walk a long way to work in her wooden shoes. She worked late at night. The camp had no gas chambers because it was a labor camp. Her uniform had her number on it. It was 200002 but not tattooed on her body. She had only one change of clothes that she had brought with her into the camp. Inmates had to live by themselves and for themselves. Trust was hard to come by. Geldner has a hard time reaching some of the memories in her mind. She and a friend stayed on the top tier of a bunk bed. She has talked to children about her experiences, and they understood. Geldner was a child at the time of her imprisonment. She has had nice and successful children in the postwar. Her family means everything to her. She lived in Philadelphia [Annotator's Note: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania] for 50 years. She did not leave the doors open for fear that the Germans would come. That fear lingers. After arriving in the United States, she and her husband started working. Geldner has four children but one daughter died of ovarian cancer. Her three remaining children are successful. Her grandson was married recent to this interview. Geldner has difficulty with trust and thus cannot relate to all people openly. She prefers talking with children and at the synagogue.

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