Author Gita Zikherman-Greisdorf shares the lessons she learned from her parents during Nazi regime in her memoir, The Shattered Dreams.
Photos courtesy of Gita Zikherman-Greisdorf
A loving mother feels grateful that her children and grandchildren grow up in comfort, but at some point, she wants them to know what she learned in her own childhood. So Gita Zikherman-Greisdorf wrote The Shattered Dreams, a slim memoire telling her story in a simple, direct way.
She wrote this book to convey the values that sustained her parents as they managed to save their children from the Nazis, remaining always just a step ahead of disaster.
Inevitably, the book also conveys the author’s own personality. Dr. Charles Silow, who works with the survivors who serve as speakers at the Holocaust Memorial Center, describes the author as “honest, sincere and sweet.”
The story starts in Daugavpils, Latvia, where Gita enjoyed a happy childhood in the same neighborhood as her grandparents, aunts, uncles and many cousins with Jewish and Latvian playmates. Gita, the little girl with a mop of golden curls, was a piano prodigy. At the ripe age of 9, she won acceptance to the music conservancy. She never got to attend.
The Nazis marched into Latvia June 22, 1941. Those Jews who could ran to the train yards to try to go east toward relative safety. Gita’s father got his wife and children on a crowded train, but it had no driver. He ran through the trainyard and found a driver, who refused to help them. Her father then found a soldier, who threatened the driver. So, a trainload of Jews escaped. Those who stayed in Daugavpils were murdered by the Germans. Gita’s grandparents were among those who stayed.
Looking back at that incident, Zikherman-Greisdorf now realizes that her father was a hero. He saved the lives of a trainload of refugees.
When the family reached the Soviet Union, along with tens of thousands of other refugees, they could not stay in overcrowded urban areas. At a kolkhoz, a collective farm in a rural Russian village, the Zikherman family lived with people who had heard legends about Jews but had never seen one. Villagers literally checked these newcomers for horns. Once the villagers realized that Jews are just human beings, the good-hearted peasants even shared what little they had to help the family survive.
Zikherman-Greisdorf’s ever-resourceful father, trained as a tailor, took up whatever trade or craft he needed to provide for the family and to share with the neighbors. When he was mobilized, her fragile mother needed 12-year-old Gita to take charge.
Even in their extreme poverty, when Gita’s mother had enough supplies (flour, bran and potato peels) to bake bread, she instructed Gita to carry some to more needy neighbors.
The story continues as the family moved from place to place across Russia, as they linked up with surviving cousins, as they faced life-threatening dangers and still managed to enjoy life.
After the war, the Russians put Gita’s father in charge of a tailoring shop. Three German prisoners-of-war worked for him. The Russians had little sympathy for these defeated soldiers and did not give them enough to eat. Gita’s mother made sandwiches for her husband and extra sandwiches for the prisoners.
Gita did not ever become a concern pianist — she still feels sad about that and cries at concerts. She became a teacher of Russian language and literature. She married Gary Greisdorf in Russia, and they have two children and four grandchildren. The family moved to the Detroit area in 1972.
Summarizing her life story, the author wants non-Jews to see what it means to hate and to ask themselves the tragic question: “How can a person come to such hatred?”
She wants Jews to feel proud of our people, even when we have disagreements and to remain united.
Without hiding from the horror, Zikherman-Greisdorf’s Holocaust story comes across as both sweet and honest.