Survivor STORY

Gisela (Gia) Meyer Spielberg was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1926. During Kristallnacht, Gia's father, Henry (Heinrich) Meyer was arrested and imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp from November 11th to November 24th, 1938. In March, Henry somehow got a visa to England. In April 1939, Gia and her sister, Erika, left Berlin for Great Britain on a Kindertransport. Gia was cared for Sir Julian and Lady Kahn, and Erika was taken in by a minister and his family. Their mother, Lilo, managed to leave for England in August. Lilo lived with a family and worked for them as a domestic. In 1940, the family's quota number came up and they sailed for the United States, where they settled in Atlanta, sponsored by what is now the Jewish Federation of Great Atlanta.

Gia, following in the footsteps of her mother, has been an active participant in Jewish organizational life in Atlanta as a member of the National Council of Jewish Women, and in the life of the community, serving the League of Women Voters and the DeKalb County Zoning Board of Appeals, among others.
Leaving Europe and Separation from Family

So my sister and I left on a children's transport in April of 1939, and my mother and grandmother were left behind in Germany. They took us to the station. My mother always said, I mean, you can imagine how she felt. I didn't think about it at the time, I was a child. Having her children go, her husband was already gone. Here she was left in Germany with all this business going on, war clouds and so on, but she was very happy. "You're so lucky to leave Germany, and just enjoy it, and go over there," and so on. And so we were on a train. There were just children and their, I think, teachers and social workers. And they separated the children by age, so I wasn't even with my sister. And we were all very happy because we knew we were getting out of Germany. And we went to Holland, crossed the border into Holland. And, well, we were already 12, so we knew we were very lucky, and we were very happy when last German customs officers were gone, who went through our luggage and everything.

Atlanta

I think my father didn't really care that much for Bridgeport Connecticut, because the opportunities were working in a factory and that was the last thing, that's what my two uncles did, and that was last thing he wanted to do. And so they said, "Well, there are some places open in Atlanta, Georgia, that you can, and you can move there if you want to." And all my parents knew about Atlanta Georgia, was Gone with the Wind, which had come out the year before. And they said, "Well, sounds interesting, we'll just try it." And that was really the way we got to Atlanta. We didn't know anybody in Atlanta.

Talking About the Holocaust

Well, I think what you wanted to do was you didn't want to look back, you wanted to get ahead, to become as Americanized as possible, to fit in with the others. Our experiences weren't so terrible that we couldn't talk about them, but you just didn't. I mean, I still get together with some of the people from Girls' High School and everybody remembered me coming, because I came to school late and I was from Germany, and maybe they asked me few things about it. And they were very friendly and very nice, but you just didn't want to talk about it too much; you just wanted to more look to the future rather than to the past. And I think it's just, and I wish there were things I had asked my mother and grandmother that I really don't know, and that they knew and I never asked them and I'm of course sorry now that I didn't.

Jewish Community

It was mostly Council of Jewish Women, had a Service to Americans, to New Americans (that's what they call it now, I forgot what the name of it was) Committee. And those people were very helpful to the refugees. And at the old Standard Club on Ponce de Leon Avenue they'd have a weekly session, at which they'd have lectures and social gatherings for people that had come from Germany to let them know what was happening in America, and how you bought groceries, how you lived here. I mean, it was a completely different life. And then, out of that, after the war, when the war ended, that's what the New World Club grew out of, I mean, these people all became Americans and learned what was going on and some of them became quite successful too.

Socially, things were completely different in the United States for teenagers than in Europe. You just didn't date or do anything like that that I knew of in Europe, so I really didn't know anything about what, how social life was. So when these other orphans came, the New World Club decided they'd have a youth group for them. And we gathered every Sunday at the Tenth Street branch of Ahavath Achim synagogue. And we, oh, we played games, played bridge, and sometimes we'd even have a couple of dances for them. There was quite a number that came over.

[About her mother, "Lilo" Meyer] And she'd always been politically very interested in everything. Always was very interested, and always interested in doing things for other people. And so she felt that since she'd been helped and had escaped and her whole family had gotten out, and she needed to help others to do this. And she became involved in all the social work that National Council of Jewish Women did and got very active in the organization. That and Hadassah. And then when my father died, she'd helped with all this reparations business there, making out the claims, and she'd never had any training in it, but she somehow picked it up and she got reparations for people that lawyers and others couldn't get reparations for. I don't know how she did it. But, and then when he died, she got it as a job, as a permanent job, as a paid job. And she worked at the Federation in the reparations and did all this work getting people their claims.

Gia Spielberg