Elly Gotz was living in Kaunas, Lithuania with his parents, when he was 13-years old, the Nazis confined them to the Kovno Ghetto, along with 29,000 other Lithuanian Jews. Gotz was just about to start high school, he had a real interest in model airplanes and the dream of becoming an engineer and a pilot.
After three years in the Ghetto, in 1944, the Soviets pushed the front to Lithuania, so the Nazis announced everyone was going to leave to go work elsewhere. Gotz family did not trust this, so they hid in the basement. Gotz’s mother was a nurse and so they planned to inject themselves with medicine to inflict a massive heart attack to commit suicide if the SS guards found them. They waited a long four days before coming out to see that all their people were boarding the train.
About 6,000 Lithuanian Jews were on their way to a concentration camp to work 12-hour days as slave labourers. As soon as the train departed, the Nazi party burned down the entire ghetto, 2,000 people hiding in the Ghetto were burnt to death.
Dachau and Liberation
Elly and his father were separated from his mother and sent to Dachau concentration camp. They survived ten long months there as slave labourers, in which Gotz worked in a factory for a German company, building a giant underground factory. Gotz became deathly ill as the lice he had was eating him alive. He was sent to the surgeon to be operated on, and from there he became the cleaner and assistant in the operating room.
In April 1945, Gotz’s father was on the verge of dying when they were fortunate enough to be liberated while in the Dachau camp. Three months later, Gotz reunited with his mother who also made it out alive. Only 5% of Lithuania Jews survived the war.
“The 25 years I did not speak a word about what I went through. When I went to university, the friends I made and had for four years I never told them where I came from and what happened to me. They are surprised now to know. It’s not that we didn’t want to talk, we didn’t speak because no one wanted to hear it, it was too painful to hear it at that time. So, we’ve stopped talking.”
Years later Gotz got the opportunity to get an education and become the engineer he always dreamed of. He even ended up becoming a pilot with his own private plane. He just celebrated turning 90-years-old and 60 years of marriage with his wife. He has children of his own and even grandchildren.
Lessons of tolerance
“When you are full of hate you don’t think about yourself you think about others. Those that you hate. And Buddha said thousands of years ago, to hate is like taking poison and hoping that the other would die.”
Gotz believes there are three things that can lead to genocide:
- Personal prejudice and hatred towards minorities
- A Government who supports such hatred
- A speaker/politician/leader that says it is acceptable to kill
“It’s important to learn from the Holocaust to be liberal, generous people. Not to hate, not to be prejudice against minorities or people that come into the country and to be aware that we must not be by standers in the presence of hatred or mistreatment of others. Don’t be a bystander is the most important thing. If you see someone being bullied, then stand up at your own risk.”
Gotz is not worried about how future generations will continue to remember the Holocaust. The generation of survivors is now very small and soon there will be none left, but they have worked hard to document their experiences. Now all future generations have to do is read the literature that exists pertaining the genocide. Gotz, personally, appreciate poetry to feel the language.
“Personal prejudice can leave to genocide, we must not accept or believe that other people who are different to ourselves are somehow less human or have less rights. We must be fair and kind and good to other people. We must not believe that just because they have a different dress or different colour of skin, or different religion that they are different than us.”
For example, Gotz is paying for Syrian refugees to now flee to Canada from the civil war.
Every time Elly Gotz tells his story to students he ends off with this thought provoking message to create a consequence of thoughts.
An Indigenous grandfather is telling his grandson, each of us has two wolves in our chest and they are constantly fighting. One wolf is full of love and friendship and the other is full of bitterness and hate. The grandson asks, “But, grandfather, which one will win?” In which the grandfather responds with, “Whichever one you feed.” Elly Gotz’s point is do not feed the bad wolf.