Growing up in Poland

Bielsko, Poland

Gerda's childhood was in Bielsko, Poland before the outbreak of World War II and the separation of her family by the Nazis.

Gerda Weissmann was born on May 8, 1924 in Bielsko, Poland. Bielsko is surrounded by the Szyndzielnia Mountains. A lot of skiing and hiking can be done on these mountains throughout the year. There is also the famous castle of the Dukes of Cieszyn, which today houses the Bielsko-Biala Museum. In the 1930s, Bielsko was known for having an abundance of textile manufacturers.

Gerda was born into a Jewish, middle-class family. There was her mother, Helena, father, Julius, and her older brother, Arthur. Gerda’s father had served in the Austrian army during World War I. (Klein, USC Shoah) During this time he met his wife and the two were married. After the war, Julius went into the family business, which was refurbishing furs that would be used on military clothing. (Klein, USC Shoah) When Gerda was young she attended Notre Dame, a Catholic school in the area. Gerda attended school until she was fifteen. (Klein, USC Shoah)

In 1933, there was a shift in the political climate in Germany and the rise of a new political party, the Nazis. At the head of this political party was the new chancellor, Adolph Hitler. Gerda describes hearing on the radio and reading in the newspapers that there were book burnings in Germany. (Klein, USC Shoah) In order to have a sense of normalcy, Gerda and her mother boarded the train in 1939 to have a summer vacation in the city of Krynica. (Klein, 4)