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Holocaust survivor hopes no one forgets

Marga Steinhardt Griesbach tells her story of surviving the Holocaust at Bremerton
Marga Steinhardt Griesbach tells her story of surviving the Holocaust at Bremerton's congregation Beth Hatikvah on Sunday. On left, is her daughter, Deborah Vaughn.
— image credit: Andy Jones/staff photo

Marga Steinhardt Griesbach was long reluctant to rehash her teenage years, to relive her many lucky breaks that made her a survivor of the Holocaust.

But despite Griesbach’s reluctance, she remembers in precise detail when she, her mother and a group of other Jews entered the chamber at Stutthof in Poland in 1944.

The Nazis had said they had been selected to transfer to another ghetto. They commanded Griesbach, now 83, to remove her clothes.

“I was totally without emotion or feelings or thoughts. I was dead in my body,” she said. “You couldn’t imagine the unbelievable relief when water came from the showers.”

More than six decades later, Griesbach told her story to a large American audience for the first time Jan. 10 at congregation Beth Hatikvah in Bremerton.

Many of those in attendance had read her self-published book, “Growing up Jewish in Hitler’s Germany,” completed in 2005.

Griesbach, a retired accountant, said she was nagged to put her story on paper by her daughters Leslie Shultz and Beth Hatikvah member Deborah Vaughn. They learned of her mother’s experience mostly through her grandmother, whose life was saved by Greisbach multiple times.

When Griesbach began writing in 2000, she wrote strictly for her family. But after returning to the Riga ghetto in Latvia in 2003, she was inspired to complete her book.

Though she is fascinated by the many memoirs she had read from other survivors, she said it is important for survivors to do what they can to ensure people never forget the Holocaust, before the generation of survivors disappear altogether.

“There are so many deniers out there that if we don’t speak out, there will be nobody left to speak out,” she said.

She had previously told her story to close friends, two German audiences and to her granddaughter’s classroom.

“It was amazing to hear one voice speak for six million,” said Cindy Bockelman.

Griesbach chronicled the rise of Hitler’s Germany’s and its affect on her hometown Witzenhausen.

The Jewish businesses were closed. The town synagogue was destroyed and she jumped around schools in Germany, trying to pursue the education that was being gradually stolen from her.

In 1941, she entered the Riga ghetto. Layers of red snow covered the ground.

Left-over possessions were scattered throughout the barracks of Latvian Jews, who had been quickly displaced to make room for the German Jews.

For Griesbach, who was already doubting the euphemistic Nazi propaganda about the Jews being “resettled,” reality sunk in.

“That’s when I said to my mom, ‘I hope that’s not their frozen blood we walked over,’” she said.

After living on food scraps in ghettos for three years, the Nazis forced them to march with thousands of others farther into Poland in December 1944. Those too weak to march were murdered on the spot.

The feet of Griesbach’s mother turned black from frostbite. She told Griesbach she could no longer walk. Griesbach grabbed her mother and sprinted to a nearby home, escaping from the march.

To Griesbach’s astonishment, her mother announced to the people in the home they were Jewish refugees planning on turning themselves in to the police.

Nobody moved in the crowd, which included a Nazi solider and other refugees.

From then on, Griesbach handled the encounters, with the more standard camouflage of posing as Eastern European refugees. They remained on the run until the end of the war, when they were eventually found by American soldiers on the day she calls the happiest of her life.

The ghastly experiences of her youth have never escaped her, and by sharing her story to future generations, she hopes nobody will ever forget.

“I’ve heard stories like this numerous times when I was young, but the impact is still sad and that it could happen again,” said Lynne Stern.

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