At the age of six, Tova Gutstein saw for the first time how Nazis shot a group of men not far from her living room window. Lined up against a wall, one after the other – just because they were Jews. Her home in Warsaw was only a few meters from the German troops’ transfer point, where hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered or deported to death camps.

One of the many terrible images that the 90-year-old has remembered for decades. “Every night I fall asleep with the memories. And every morning I wake up with them,” says the old woman, who was deported with her family to the neighboring ghetto in the Polish capital in 1940.


Gutstein is now sitting on a stone bench in front of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. You can hardly tell her age. Six months ago she injured her leg in a fall. “Before that, I looked 40,” she laughs. To do this, the left hand with the red painted nails runs through her white hair. She hasn’t been able to walk very well since the fall. “But I’m tough.”

The Holocaust survivor pushes the memorial’s wheelchair in front of her, despite the incline. She prefers to go. “I’m used to fighting. Against cold, against heat, against hunger, against pain – that’s why we get so old.”

Of the approximately half a million Jews penned up by the Nazis in the Warsaw ghetto, only very few made it to freedom. Many died of disease and starvation. Others were shot or deported to extermination camps. Wednesday marks the 80th anniversary of the uprising – one of the symbols of Jewish resistance.

The heroes of the resistance

Gutstein remembers it well. Weeks earlier, a boy from the neighborhood kept coming and asking for valuables to buy guns underground. “My mother gave him every piece of jewelry. Anything we had left,” she recalls. Her father had already been kidnapped by the Nazis. She never saw him again.

When the fighting began on April 19, 1943, Gutstein was outside the ghetto. Almost every day she crawled through the sewers with a rope on her stomach to look for food for her family on the other side. When she ran back, her house was reduced to rubble and ash. “My mother, sister and brother were gone.” Four weeks later, the German occupiers finally put down the uprising.

Gutstein saved himself in a nearby forest. There she was taken in by partisans. When they went to fight the Germans, they hid in a hole in the ground covered with undergrowth. “They said to me: ‘Don’t come out until you don’t hear any more shots.’ It lasted four days once.” Without food, without water, without daylight. After the war she found her mother, sister and brother in Germany. “I thank God for that.”

long silence

In 1948 she came to Israel. In her new home, she just wanted to forget what she had experienced, says Gutstein. She didn’t talk about it until she was 80. “Neither with my husband nor with my three children. I just didn’t want to think about it.” What made you change your mind? Her big sister got Alzheimer’s. “Sometimes I wonder if it’s better that way.” But she realized that she was the one who had to tell the story. Against forgetting.

On Wednesday, Frank-Walter Steinmeier will be the first Federal President to give a speech on the occasion of the 80th anniversary in front of the monument in Warsaw that commemorates it. How does she find that? “I wouldn’t have done well with it before,” she admits. “But it got better with age.” She also refused compensation from Germany for a long time. “They took away my youth, my education, my future. I didn’t want their money.”

In general, she often wonders what would have happened to her life if the Nazis hadn’t destroyed her youth. When the war was over, she could neither write nor read. “I was illiterate and became a nurse because I knew how to help. But maybe I could have become a professor.”