Werner Galnik was eight years old at the beginning of his written account of Nazi persecution. Werner did not keep an ongoing diary during the events he described; rather he wrote his recollections four years later, immediately upon his liberation in April 1945. He endured the horrible conditions of the Riga ghetto and also survived two concentration camps.
Werner’s family was from Germany, but he didn’t write about the hardships of life under the Nazis back at home. He began his account with the day his family was deported to Riga. It must have been very traumatic for Werner to lose his home and to be forced to leave his familiar surroundings. Perhaps that is why he began his account with a description of his boyhood home and the family members and friends who lived there. The confusion and anger he felt about the unfairness of the deportation was evident in his reflections. He wrote, “I figured this way: Hitler loves only the Germans, but no other people, and particularly not us Jews. Does it follow that because we are Jews we must be prisoners? Did my father perhaps steal or murder that he should be arrested? And what had my dear mother done? And what did we children do?”
The circumstances of the forced move were bad enough, but the moment of arrival in the ghetto was truly a nightmare. Werner described it in this way, “When we arrived in Riga we were told that whoever had any money or gold must give them up. Otherwise they would be shot. The money and gold was given up. The heavy baggage, in the baggage cars, was also taken away. Only the light baggage we had with us we could take along to the ghetto. We arrived in the ghetto under guard. We had one room – filthy, and the kitchen was also – filthy. They had been left by Jews who had gone in a German round up.”
Werner’s account captured the horror of deportation; the reduction of one’s life into a suitcase – carried into a space far too small to live in. As bad as things were, the deportees also knew that a worse fate lay in store, because others had been forced out of the ghetto to make room for them. Those poor unfortunate people disappeared into the unknown. Everyone in the ghetto wondered how long it would be until they suffered the same fate.
You may read about Werner’s experiences in Children in the Holocaust and World War II: Their Secret Diaries by Laurel Holliday.
You may also read more about Riga and the Riga Ghetto in this article.
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