Yellow cloth Star of David badge with a blank center
overall : 3.500 x 3.500 in. (8.89 x 8.89 cm.)
Malwina (Inka) Gerson was born on March 17,1929, in Lodz, Poland, to Gustav and Dora Stillerman Gerson. Gustav’s parents were from Latvia, but he was born in Warsaw, and raised in Lodz. He had three younger siblings, Leon, Gerda, and Wila. Dora’s parents were from Belarus; she was born in Lodz and had a brother, Samuel (Mula). Dora’s family moved to Moscow when World War I began in 1914; her father died about 1918 and the family returned to Poland in the 1920s. Dora and Gustav met on the train ride back to Lodz. Gustav had been in Moscow since 1914, where he attended business school. They married in Lodz on April 7, 1925. Gustav was a textile engineer and manufacturer of high quality cotton fabrics in Lodz. Dora helped him with the business. The family lived a cultured, middle class life, and spoke Polish, Russian, and German at home. There was a nanny and then a governess for Inka, who attended a private girl’s school. The Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and Lodz was soon occupied. Dora's brother, Samuel, fled to Lvov (Lviv, Ukraine) with his family, and Gustav's brother, Leo, went to Warsaw with his wife, Marysia. The Germans soon put in place regulations to restrict and persecute Jews. They were not allowed to travel in certain parts of the city, attend public schools, and they had to wear yellow Star of David badges on their outer clothing. In November, the Gersons were evicted from their home and most of their possessions were taken by the Germans. In January 1940, Inka, her parents, and her maternal grandmother, Bertha Stillerman, who lived with them, were forced to move to the sealed ghetto. They lived in a single room, without running water and very little heat. After 1941, they no longer received any mail from relatives outside the ghetto. For the first year, Inka attended the ghetto school. There were classes in Hebrew and Judaism, but any subjects relating to Poland were forbidden. Soon the school was closed and twelve year old Inka had to work. Her first job was in the hat division where she made belts and artificial flowers; next, she worked in the knitting division making large, elaborate tablecloths and sweaters, and macramé bags. Her mother worked in the office of the rag sorting workshop and her father managed Central Purchasing, where ghetto inhabitants could sell their belongings for ghetto scrip. Living conditions grew steadily worse and disease and illness from lack of food were widespread. In 1942, Inka and her mother were ill with typhus and Inka’s grandmother died. During the summer of 1944, the Germans decided to liquidate the ghetto and deport the inhabitants to Auschwitz. A small crew of approximately 900 residents was retained to sort the remaining belongings for shipment to Germany. Since Gustav was fluent in German, as well as a trained textile engineer, the Germans told him to stay. Inka and Dora were allowed to remain with him. People were divided into work groups and there were daily roll calls. At first, the women went through abandoned apartments, packing up reusable items, while the men dismantled workshops. Later, everyone worked packing up goods. The gates were locked at night. At some point, the inmates were ordered to dig mass graves at the Jewish cemetery, which they took as a sign that the Germans were planning to execute everyone. By this time, the Soviet Army was advancing quickly toward the city. One evening, word spread that the executions were planned for the next day. The camp overseers managed to keep the gates unlocked and told everyone to flee and hide. Inka and her parents found a small, dilapidated wooden house and hid there for a few days. They could hear fighting, as well as the German troops searching for hidden Jews. Then all became quiet. Gustav decided to go out and look, and the next thing Inka remembers is her friend, Janka Weinberg (now Raplewska), running up the stairs screaming: “Why are you still sitting here, the Russians are here and we are saved!" The ghetto was liberated on January 17, 1945. Dora met two cousins who were serving with the Russian army and, through them, cabled Bolivia to tell Gustav’s sisters that they had survived. Prior to the war, his sister, Gerda, had married Dr. Robert Herzenberg, who had emigrated to Bolivia in 1929, and was head of the Hochschild Mines analytical chemistry laboratory. His other sister had joined them there before the war. The Gersons remained in Lodz for the next year and a half, making preparations to emigrate to Bolivia. When their belongings were taken by the Germans, Dora had given some jewelry to their Polish housekeeper, Klementyna, for safekeeping. She returned these items to them after the war. Gustav got a job in a textile factory. They learned that Gustav’s brother, Leo, and his wife had perished. Dora's brother, Mula, was killed in Budapest on the last day of the occupation, but his wife, Betty, and daughter, Janka, survived and emigrated to Israel. Dora worked for Dr. Philip Friedman, who was investigating German anti-Jewish atrocities and also for TOZ, a health and welfare organization. Inka returned to school when it reopened in February. In June 1946, the family left for Sweden, and after a few months, sailed to Bolivia via England and Panama. Inka finished high school in Bolivia and attended a local technical college until her uncle arranged for her to go to MIT to continue her studies. Inka left Bolivia in September 1949. She met Steven Allen (originally Margulies), born in Vienna, whose family escaped Austria in 1940, at MIT where they obtained doctorates: Inka in chemistry, Steve in metallurgy. They married in 1951 and had two children. Inka became a college chemistry professor. Steve died on April 12, 2012, age 84.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Collection, Gift of Malwina "Inka" Gerson Allen
No restrictions on access
No restrictions on use
No restrictions on use