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A high school graduate… at age 86

Holocaust survivor honored by Hartford school

By Cindy Mindell

 

Gisela Adamski at the Hartford Public High School graduation  ceremony.

Gisela Adamski at the Hartford Public High School graduation ceremony.

HARTFORD – Gisela M. Adamski is 86 and just received her high school diploma.

She was on course to complete high school in 1946, but her education was cut short at age 14, when the Nazis banned Jewish children from attending German public schools.

Earlier this month, she was among the graduates of the Hartford Public High School Law & Government Academy, who had successfully petitioned the school administration to present her with an honorary diploma. The students had first met Adamski in February, when the Holocaust survivor came to the school to speak about her wartime experiences.

Gisela Marianne Sachs was born in 1928 in Oppeln, Germany. In the late ‘30s, she and her parents, Else and Kurt, were on the waiting list for visas to the U.S. But visas never came through, and the family was deported to Terezin in April 1943. In October, when Else and Gisela were transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, Else was killed upon arrival. Kurt was killed in the Kaufering sub-camp of Dachau on Dec. 25, 1944.

Gisela was then deported to Kurzbach, a satellite labor camp of Gross-Rosen concentration camp. In late January 1945, as the Allies reached the camps in Poland and Germany, she and fellow prisoners were sent on a death march. After five days, Sachs and two friends were approached by a Polish Christian man, who offered to hide them. They agreed, and were joined the next morning by another 42 women saved by the same man. Soon after, they were liberated by the Soviet army.

In May of that year, Sachs returned to her native Oppeln, now part of Poland, to search for her father, only to learn that he had not survived. Five months later, she married Severyn Adamski, a Polish-Jewish soldier. The couple moved to Paris, where their daughter, Eliane, was born in 1947. The Adamskis first made their way to Tel Aviv and then, in 1956, immigrated to Queens, N.Y., where Gisela served on the board of the local chapter of Holocaust Survivors, Inc.

Gisela Adamski addresses fellow graduates at the Hartford Public High graduation.  Looking on is the teacher Giana Gleeson, who petitioned the school’s administration  to have Adamski awarded a diploma.

Gisela Adamski addresses fellow graduates at the Hartford Public High graduation. Looking on is the teacher Giana Gleeson, who petitioned the school’s administration to have Adamski awarded a diploma.

Her granddaughter, Shiri B. Sandler, would become U.S. director of the Auschwitz Jewish Center at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.

Severyn died in 1997. Four years ago, Adamski followed her daughter to West Hartford. Since then, she has been telling her story in schools throughout the area, even after being diagnosed with cancer last year.  In February, she spoke at Hartford Public High School Academy of Law & Government.

“The students were very receptive,” she says. “I always mention that I was unable to attend school after the age of 14, when Jewish children in Germany were no longer allowed to attend school. The students asked their teacher, Giana Gleeson, to let me graduate with them.”

Gleeson petitioned the school administration and Principal Frank Samuelson agreed to the request.

On June 13, Adamski donned a robe and mortarboard and walked from her wheelchair across the stage to receive her high school diploma and deliver a short speech about how significant the ceremony was to her.

“The graduation was beautiful and the kids were just great,” she says. “This diploma means an awful lot to me, especially knowing that these students are dealing with a lot of adversity and still felt for me and asked to have me graduate with them.”

 

Comments? email cindym@jewishledger.com.

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