The Holocaust Survivor Memoirs Program

Gerta Solan

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Born
December 06, 1929 Prague, Czechoslovakia

Map of Mukacevo, Czechoslovakia

Immigrated
1968 Toronto, Ontario

In June 1942, when twelve-year-old Gerta is deported with her parents to the Theresienstadt ghetto – the Nazis' deceptive "model Jewish settlement" – her family helps her cope with the surrounding devastation. Later, alone in Auschwitz, Gerta is determined to survive the unbearable. Her intrepid spirit and keen observation guides her anew through post-war communism to freedom in Canada.

About Gerta

Gerta Solan was born in Prague in 1929. After liberation, she returned to Prague, and in 1949 she met and married Paul Seidner (Solan). They lived in Prague until the Soviet invasion in 1968. In Toronto, Gerta worked for the Red Cross, tracing and reuniting families after disasters, until her retirement in 1995. Gerta now lives in Israel.

Photos and Artifacts

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    Gerta and Grandpa Fritz in Prague, circa 1933.

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    Gerta, approximately 3 years old, with her parents.

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    Gerta’s uncle Franz Roubitschek.

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    Gerta’s aunt Anny.

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    Gerta’s aunt Irma.

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    Gerta’s uncle Josef Kantor.

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    Gerta's uncle Paul Roubitschek, her mother’s youngest brother.

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    Gerta (front, seated) with her extended family. In the back row (left to right) are her uncle Paul, grandfather Fritz and grandmother Klara; front row (left to right) are Paul’s girlfriend, Zdenka; Gerta’s mother, Grete; and Gerta’s cousin Ella.

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    On vacation at the Prachovské Rocks, Czechoslovakia. Left to right: Gerta's mother, Grete; Gerta; cousin Ella; Ella’s friend; and Zdenka.

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    Gerta and her cousin Ella.

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    Gerta, circa 1941.

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    Paul and Gerta’s wedding photo. Banská Bystrica, April 11, 1949.

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    Gerta's mother-in-law, Jolana (Joly).

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    Gerta's father-in-law, Maximilian (Miška) Solan.

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    Gerta's brother-in-law, Peter Solan.

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    Wedding of Micka and Peter, Gerta's brother-in-law.

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    Gerta and her husband, Paul, at the airport, waiting to immigrate to Toronto. Vienna, 1968.

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    Gerta at the Vienna airport with her son, Michal (Mišhko).

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    Gerta and her husband, Paul, outside Thorncliffe Park Drive, their second home in Toronto, in the early 1970s.

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    Gerta and her son, Mišhko, in their new apartment, circa 1970.

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    Gerta, 1980.

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    Paul, Gerta's husband, 1980.

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    Gerta’s grandchildren Yarko (left) and Daniel (right).

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    Gerta’s grandchildren Yarko (left) and Daniel (right).

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    Gerta's friends Laco and the “older” Vĕra, who was with Gerta in Rechlin, Germany.

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    Gerta's friends from the Red Cross. Left to right: Theresa, John, Winn and Grace; with Gerta’s friend Hana (right), whom she met in Theresienstadt.

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    A recent photo of Gerta at the prom for Holocaust survivors put on by the Yellow Rose Project. Toronto, 2013.

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    Luci and Vilko Schönfeld, close friends of Gerta and her husband, Paul.

The Book

Cover of My Heart Is At Ease

My Heart Is At Ease

We played a game of nostalgia, recalling memories of the past to forget, for a while, the terrible present.... The siren at 5:00 a.m. woke us to the morning reality of roll call. We each wondered if we were going to be given another day of life.

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My Heart Is At Ease

Surviving the Unbearable

SS men shouted at us to line up, yelling, “Go! Go! Go!” to move us forward. There was a huge factory chimney releasing thick smoke into the air. Some of the female inmates told us that people were being gassed, sometimes just lightly, before being thrown into ovens. There were bodies burning day and night. A barbed wire fence charged with electricity surrounded the camp. Later, a few times, I saw women jumping to embrace the wires, wanting to end their misery. We were given summer clothing, each piece marked with a huge X on the back, socks and Dutch wooden shoes. It was October and the sky was grey, the wind strong; it was freezing cold. The inmates who were there already were unfriendly – I think they envied us arriving later than they had. The constant shouting of uniformed SS women accompanied by large dogs was terrifying. We knew we were facing a horrible fate. This was Birkenau, a death camp.

We were ordered to line up to be tattooed. On my inside left arm I was given the number A 27635. Less than a week later, we underwent one of the now well-known selections done by physicians like Dr. Mengele and Dr. König. I was very thin and undernourished and with one wave of the doctor’s hand, my mother and I were separated. I saw my mother’s desperate face trying to follow me, but she was pushed back. I was alone.

Like cattle we were pushed into trucks, hundreds of us heading to, I was sure, the gas chamber to end as dust in the chimney. They took us into a large room and told us to undress. It must have been late, as it was dark outside. Women started to scream hysterically that we were going to be gassed. We may have actually been in one of the delousing barracks, not the gas chambers at all, but I was in a daze and, as I remember it, I moved to a window. I looked around; no one was watching me. Everyone was in her own strange world of despair. I pushed my small head through an opening in the window, and then my shoulders and the rest of my body went through like butter. I didn’t hear or see any dogs. I jumped down and ran. I had nothing to lose. I knew I had to get into a barracks. I found one and tried to get onto a bunk but they were all filled. It was pitch dark. In the middle of the barracks was something like a huge steam boiler. I climbed up on it to sit down. It was quiet. Suddenly, I got a terrible toothache. Then something heavy and alive fell on me and jumped away – rats!

Life started at 5:00 a.m. in the camps and the next morning I heard shouts from the block elders, ordering us to get out and line up for the Appell, the head count. I had survived the night, but I knew I had to go out and line up. I remember standing in line, stiff, freezing, but don’t remember anything after that. I must have fainted.

I woke up on a top bunk in the hospital with another girl next to me. It was the least safe place to be because it was the first place they went to collect people to send to the gas chamber. But I was weak and couldn’t go anywhere. When my neighbour saw that I had opened my eyes, she said, “You have probably survived typhus.”