Philip L. Gans was 12 years old when the Nazis invaded Holland in May 1940. Three years later, the youngest child of Jewish clothiers and his family were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, where his father, mother, sister, brother and grandmother were eventually killed. Gans, tattooed with the number 139755, was forced into slave labor until his liberation by American soldiers on April 23, 1945.
A former Delawarean who worked for the Texaco refinery in Delaware City for 25 years, Gans returned to the First State this week to tell his story to students at Appoquinimink, Caravel and McKean high schools.
He also will speak at the Port Penn VFW Post at 7 p.m. Friday, in an event that is open to the public. The Post is located at 15 W. Market St., near the firehouse.
Q What do you hope people will get out of hearing your story?
A Three things: Don’t give up hope. Erase the hate. And don’t be a bystander. In today’s age, so many kids get bullied and think about suicide so I want the kids to think about how they’ll have to live with that for the rest of their lives if they don’t do something about it right now.
Q How were you able to maintain your hope in the face of such horror?
A A lot of the kids ask me the same thing. I say to them, “Do you want to die? No? Well, neither did I.” I was only 15 years old. I wanted to live. I could understand the grown men in their 40s and 50s giving up under those conditions with the hunger and backbreaking labor, but I was a young man. I wanted to live.
Q When did you begin speaking publicly about your personal experience?
A Only about 14 years ago. When the Holocaust Museum in Florida moved to St. Petersburg, I got invited and I’ve been going to schools and retirement homes with my PowerPoint show ever since. Some people thought speaking about it would lessen the burden, but I don’t think it makes a difference. It happened and nothing can undo it.
Q Why do you think it’s important to keep telling your story?
A It won’t be much longer until there aren’t any of us survivors left, and if I don’t tell it, who will? I wonder sometimes if the children can comprehend, since they’ve never even experienced anything like rationing. It was the same when my grandmother would tell us about World War I. But even if they don’t really understand, people are still interested. The last time I spoke to about 600 students, you could hear a pin drop.