The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Elly Gotz

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Born
March 08, 1928 Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1964 Toronto

Sixteen-year-old Elly Gotz hides with his family in an underground bunker in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, prepared to die rather than be found by the Nazis. After surviving three years in the ghetto, where thousands from his community have been murdered, Elly and his family refuse to be the Nazis’ next victims. But there is no escape from the ghetto’s liquidation in the summer of 1944, and Elly and his family eventually surrender, only to be separated when he and his father are taken to the notorious Dachau concentration camp. After the war, fleeing from Europe and their past, Elly fights to regain his lost youth and his years of missed education. His motivation and enterprising spirit give him the determination to succeed and to, ultimately, find strength in flight.

About Elly

Elly Gotz was born in Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, in 1928. In 1947, Elly and his parents immigrated to Norway and then to Zimbabwe. Elly immigrated to Toronto in 1964, where he established various businesses and achieved his lifelong dream of becoming a pilot. In 2017, at age eighty-nine, he fulfilled another aeronautical dream by going skydiving.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Elly’s father, Julius (Judel) Gotz. Kaunas, Lithuania, 1926.

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    Elly’s mother, Sonja (née Wilentschuk) Gotz. Kaunas, Lithuania, 1926.

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    Joshua Gotz, Elly’s paternal grandfather. Kaunas, Lithuania, 1934.

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    Bluma Gotz, Elly’s paternal grandmother. Kaunas, Lithuania, 1934.

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    Elly, age six, on his first bicycle. Kaunas, Lithuania, 1934.

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    Elly riding his bike on the main street of Laisvės Alėja, the street on which his family lived. Kaunas, Lithuania, circa 1935.

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    Elly, age eight, on summer vacation in Kulautuva, Lithuania. 1936.

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    Elly with family. From left to right: Sonia, a relative; Elly’s mother, Sonja; his uncle Samuel Gotz; his grandmother Bluma Gotz; Elly; his father, Julius; his grandmother Chaya Leah (Alte); and his grandfather Joshua Gotz. Kaunas, Lithuania, 1936.

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    Elly and his mother. Kaunas, Lithuania, 1937.

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    Elly at age thirteen in the uniform he was supposed to wear to high school, which he never got to attend due to Germany’s invasion of Lithuania. Kaunas, Lithuania, 1941.

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    Elly (standing) teaching students in the Kovno ghetto Fachschule (trade school). On Elly’s right is Itzchak Kopilowitz, whom he reunited with in Tel Aviv in 2007. The photographer, George Kadish, captured this and many other images clandestinely in the ghetto in 1944; fifty years later, in 1994, Elly discovered the photo by coincidence at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

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    Elly and his mother, Sonja, after their emigration from Germany. Halden, Norway, 1947.

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    Elly with a dead crocodile after hunting on the Zambezi River. Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), 1954.

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    Elly’s graduation as an engineer from Witwatersrand University. Johannesburg, South Africa, 1952.

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    Esme and Elly celebrating their wedding with their parents. From left to right: Esme’s father, Abram; her mother, Hilda; Esme; Elly; his mother, Sonja; and his father, Julius. Johannesburg, South Africa, March 16, 1958.

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    Visiting family in Norway after their wedding. From left to right: Uncle Anatol (Tanchum); Elly; Uncle David; Cousin Dalia; Esme; Uncle Gedalie; Cousin Liv; Aunt Nata; Uncle Gedalie’s sister-in-law; Uncle Gedalie’s wife, Beks; and Aunt Mary. Oslo, Norway, 1958.

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    Elly with family at home in Toronto. From left to right: Elly’s son, Ruven; Elly’s mother, Sonja; his wife, Esme; his daughter Avril; Elly; his father, Julius; and his daughter Julia. 1970.

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    Esme and Elly, Toronto, 1971.

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    Esme and Elly with their son, Ruven, on the occasion of his graduation from the University of Toronto in 1984.

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    Esme with daughters Avril (left) and Julia (right). Toronto, 1990.

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    Esme and Elly with their twin granddaughters, Ilana (left) and Anita (right) Gotz. Toronto, 1991.

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    Anita (left) and Ilana (right) at their graduation from university. Kingston, 2014.

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    The family of Elly’s daughter Avril Kurr. In back, left to right: Elly’s granddaughter Sarah; his daughter Avril; and his son-in-law Martin. In front: Elly’s grandson Martin and his granddaughter Robin. Owen Sound, 2008.

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    Elly’s grandson Ethan Gotz. Toronto, 2010.

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    Elly’s son, Ruven Gotz, and Elly’s daughter-in-law, Deborah Gotz. 2018.

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    Elly speaking about his survival during the Holocaust to students at Sherwood Secondary School. Hamilton, 2013.

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    Elly, age eighty-nine, as he jumps from an airplane. Cookstown, 2017.

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    Elly and Esme celebrating their sixtieth anniversary and Elly’s ninetieth birthday. Toronto, March 2018.

The Book

Cover of Flights of Spirit

Flights of Spirit

I had a lot of time to think and I had many questions: How does it feel to die? Does the brain go on working for a time after the heart stops? My mother was a strong woman and I trusted her, but would she have the strength to give me, her only child, the first injection?

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Flights of Spirit

Syringes on a Tray

The most dramatic event in my life happened in the summer of 1944. I was sixteen years old and I was facing my death. In wartime, death can occur at any time. But today, death would come not from the hand of my enemy — it would come from the hand of my beloved mother.

I was hiding in a basement with my mother, my father, my three uncles and my aunt. We had covered the entrance to the room with an old cupboard and we sat there listening to every sound coming from outside. We had all agreed that we would rather die here than be captured and shot on the killing fields of the Ninth Fort in Kaunas, Lithuania.

My mother, who was a surgical nurse in the ghetto hospital, had been given the task of arranging our communal suicide. She had filled several syringes with a potent heart drug. The plan was to inject an excessive dose of the drug in our veins and cause a heart attack.

I watched my mother as she prepared a serving tray covered with a clean white cloth. On the tray, there was a bottle of medical alcohol and beside each syringe lay a ball of cotton wool. I thought this was funny, so I reminded my mother that as this was a final injection it did not have to be a clean one. Everyone laughed, except my mother; but she took away the cotton wool.

It was very boring to sit for days on end in that dim basement. I had a lot of time to think and I had many questions: How does it feel to die? Does the brain go on working for a time after the heart stops? My mother was a strong woman and I trusted her but would she have the strength to give me, her only child, the first injection?

I tried to imagine my mother injecting the six of us and then, finally, herself. Then I tried to imagine the seven of us lying on the floor waiting for the drug to kick in. What would we say to each other? Would we laugh or cry? Would it be painful? As I tried to picture the scene, I decided it would be good to go first — I did not wish to see it.

I will now try to describe the circumstances that would make a woman like my mother ready to kill her son and her family. That suicide pact came after we had spent three years, from 1941 to 1944, in the Kaunas ghetto — which became the Kauen concentration camp — in Lithuania. My story can only be understood after knowing what was happening in the Kaunas ghetto during those three years.