Nesse Galperin was born on March 28, 1928, in Siauliai, Lithuania, to observant Jewish parents, Pinchas and Sara Bernstein Galperin. Sara was born on March 15, 1898, in Karchai, Lithuania. Her father was a farmer and she had five siblings. After attending secondary school in Jonava, Sara moved to Siauliai in 1920, where she met Pinchas, who was born June 16, 1896, in Vilnius, Lithuania (Vilna, Poland.) He was one of sixteen children of which nine lived to adulthood. His father was a typesetter for a Jewish newspaper and his mother had a small grocery store. He worked at a shoe factory. Pinchas and Sara married in 1920 and soon opened a dairy store. Nesse had two brothers, Yechezkel, born on July 21, 1921, and Menashe, born on September 11, 1923. Siauliai had a large, vibrant, closeknit Jewish community of more than 10,000 members, and over a dozen synagogues. The Galperin family attended the Landkremer synagogue.
In September 1939, World War II began when Germany invaded Poland. In 1940, Lithuania was annexed by the Soviet Union. Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 and on June 26, occupied Siauliai. The Germans began to systematically persecute the Jewish community. German killing units (einsatzgruppen), joined by Lithuanian police and military officials, massacred thousands of Jewish men and boys. Many were taken into the nearby Kuziai forest under the pretense of restoring areas of the city damaged by the invasion. They were shot and buried in large pits. Jewish children were prohibited from attending school, and Jewish businesses were confiscated.
In August, Nesse and her family were forced to move into the Siauliai ghetto. All adult residents were required to work. Since Nesse was too young to work, she did not get a food ration card. Food was scarce and people depended on food smuggled into the ghetto. Nesse acted as a lookout. In 1943, when she turned fifteen, she was assigned to work. Menashe married Belle Zalinsky, a widow with a four year old, Anna, who was hidden with Lithuanian relatives. On November 5, 1943, the Germans issued conflicting work orders and everyone was afraid there would be a round-up. The Jewish police warned people that they should try to get into a labor brigade working outside the ghetto. Sara did not have a Star of David badge and Pinchas made her take his, telling her that he would not be selected for deportation, but for labor. Pinchas was deported, with a group of 1700 Jews, including 1000 children, to Auschwitz concentration camp. Nesse, her mother, and her brothers avoided the selection because they were at work outside the ghetto.
In July 1944, as Soviet forces approached the Germans emptied the ghetto of its remaining occupants. Nesse, her mother, and Yechezkel were deported to Stutthof concentration camp in Danzig (Gdansk) in German occupied Poland. Menashe and Belle hid during the deportation. Nesse became prisoner number 54015 and was separated from her mother and brother. In the camp, Jewish women looked after Nesse, protecting her and advising her on how to survive. The women shared their food with her, wrapped her in straw to keep her warm, and held her up when the guards abused her. Nesse was transported to four other slave labor camps, including Derbeck, Malkin, and Chinow. In January 1945, she was sent on a death march with a group of 1000 female prisoners. The group was liberated by the Soviet army on March 10, 1945, while burying corpses in a labor camp in east Prussia. Only 200 women from Nesse’s group were still alive.
Nesse spent six weeks recuperating in a makeshift hospital in Chinow (Chynowie), Poland. She was assigned a foster mother to help her. They traveled to Łódź, Poland, where Nesse met a woman from Siauliai who told her that her mother, Sara, was somewhere on the border between Germany and Poland. Nesse left the care of her foster mother to search for her. When she reached the border, she discovered that Sara, having learned that Nesse was alive, had left to find her in Łódź. After several weeks, Nesse and her mother were reunited. Sara had been sent from Stutthof to Derbeck in August, 1944, and then, in September, to Gakowa concentration camp where she was liberated by Soviet forces in January 1945. They learned that Pinchas, 47, had been murdered in the gas chambers at Auschwitz upon arrival. In order to begin rebuilding their lives, Sara decided that one of them must marry. Sara asked Yankel Godin, a survivor from Poland, to marry 17 year old Nesse and join their family. The couple married shortly after. In October, the combined family relocated to Feldafing displaced persons camp in Bavaria, Germany, where they were reunited with Yechezkel. They learned that Menashe had survived in the Soviet Union, but he was not permitted to leave there after the war. Nesse and Yankel had a daughter on March 1947, and a son in September 1949.
Yechezkel left for Israel in 1948. In 1950, the Nessa, Yankel, the two children, and Sara emigrated to the United States and settled in Washington, DC. Nesse and Jack (Yankel) had a third child, a daughter. Sara, 69, passed away in 1967. Menashe immigrated to Israel in 1970. Nesse has dedicated herself to educating others about the Holocaust to honor the women who saved her life. She promised them that she would not let them be forgotten and to remember and tell the world what hatred can do.