WPU Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies Welcomes Survivor


Nadia Starbinski

Gina Lanceter (right) with her daughter, Dina Cohen (left)

Nadia Starbinski, Entertainment Editor

The William Paterson University Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies welcomed a Holocaust survivor to campus Thursday afternoon to share her story of tragedy and resilience.

Gina Lanceter, 91, born Eugenia Hochberg in Brody, Poland, spoke to students at the College of Education about her life story in Nazi Germany.

“I hope that everyone lucky enough to be here today to bear witness to Gina’s story will turn whatever lessons they learn and feelings they have into some form of ‘Tikkun Olam,’ repairing the world,” said Dr. Alison Dobrick, Director of WPU Center of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and faculty member at the university.

Lanceter lived a “wonderful, happy life” before the relocation to the Brody ghetto in the winter of 1942.

“A ghetto consisted of a secluded part of the town that could hold about 1,000 people and they tried to hold a little more than 9,000,” Lanceter explained to the audience.

When Adolf Hitler demanded the destruction of all the ghettos, Lanceter and her family were forced on a deportation train to Majdanek, an extermination camp.

Lanceter’s older brother tried to escape occupied Germany the year before with a group of boys from university.

“To this day, I don’t know what happened to him,” Lanceter said. “As bad as it is to lose everyone, I think it’s even worse to not have the closure.”

While on the death camp train, Lanceter’s father convinced her to “save herself” and later forced her to jump off before they reached their destination.

“My father told me I must jump out the window,” she said. “His last words to me were ‘You must survive. You mustn’t die in vain.”

Eventually, he and two other men on the train pushed her through the small opening after bending the metal bar stationed in the center of the window.

Lanceter woke hours later on the railroad tracks with a wound on her head, a sprained ankle and two peasant men standing over her.

A railroad conductor found her and took her in for the night before sending her on her way with fresh clothes.

“I followed the tracks for four days back to my hometown. Sometimes I slept in a barn, other times I slept in a field eating whatever I could find,” Lanceter said.

She came across a Catholic Church in a small town where she met a priest who she describes as an “absolute Saint. And an angelic human being.”

Lanceter recalls her doubts and insecurities before she approached the man. “I didn’t believe in God in that moment,” she said. “Because if He was here, why didn’t He help us?”

The priest fed her, gave her shoes and most importantly: a Christian birth certificate.

“At this time, it is 1943 and Germany was losing. The streets were heavily lined with Gestapo and soldiers. So, it was a very dangerous time to aid anyone,” Lanceter said. “And he just was a wonderful, wonderful person. I am in his debt.”

The birth certificate allowed her to travel and live in a forced work camp.

“When I first got to the camp, no one wanted to share a bunk with me because I was so dirty, I looked deranged,” Lanceter joked.

But the jokes didn’t last long.

She eventually had to escape the work camp and spend the final weeks of the war hiding.

In hiding until her liberation, Lanceter spent six weeks concealed in a hole under a bed where two German soldiers were stationed.

“The Russian woman who sheltered us seldom gave us any food because the soldiers rarely left the apartment,” Lanceter said. “So, our main source of nutrients was from the old snow.”

She admits there were many moments where she became discouraged, but her father’s voice in her head to survive kept her going.

Lanceter recalls the bombs being dropped, and the soldiers running from the building before she and the four other women hiding were free to remove themselves from the floorboards.

“When we returned, there was nothing for us there.” Lanceter glumly said. “I feel old Poland is one big cemetery.”

She luckily reunited with her first cousin through the Red Cross, married her husband Henryk in 1945 and five months later took up residence in a displaced persons camp in Fuerth, Germany.

After the birth of their daughter, the family emigrated to the United States.

Nikki Gaffney, 19, a Biology and Ethics major asked Lanceter her opinion on the world today.

“I’m very scared,” Lanceter replied. “It’s like an echo of the ‘30s. Too many killings and prejudice. People don’t learn from past mistakes I guess.”

However, she left the audience on a positive note.

“One person can do a lot. In my story, it was one person who made a difference in my survival each time,” Lanceter said. “Don’t be passive. Remain vigilant. You are the ambassadors of the future.”

Along with her work with the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City, Gina Lanceter is also an active member of the Holocaust Council of MetroWest and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education.

She routinely speaks at educational functions to spread awareness of the horrors of genocide.