History Lessons

Two childhood survivors of war speak about past and present horrors.



For Eva Galler, televised images of the hijacked planes slamming into the World Trade Center revived memories of how she survived the Nazi Holocaust as a teenager in her native Poland.

"When I watched that on television, I saw before my eyes the horrible time that I survived," says the 78-year-old Galler. "I told myself, what a parallel. Hitler also just spread hate. He discovered the crematoriums to mass-kill people. Now these terrorists discover another way to kill many people at the same time.

"After the war, I was always proud to come to the United States and regain a country, regain a family to live in a free country. But now I am double-proud to see people stick together and that they react different than the Holocaust, which I survived.

"Because when I survived, I had to hide my identity so as not to be killed again. Now, people try to help each other. And that is what made me proud."

For Galler, there is a parallel in the lessons from the terrorist attacks and the Holocaust. "People have to learn not to keep hate each other. ... We have to learn to respect other religions and to respect each other, to spread love not hate. And to teach the children not to hate. That's the only solution."

Galler was 17 years old when, at the insistence of her father, she jumped from a death camp train carrying her family and escaped under a hail of gunfire from SS guards. The oldest of eight children, she was the only one in her family to survive.

"My youngest brother was 3 years old," she said in a recent interview with local archivist John Menszer. "And I still hear him scream, 'I want to live, too.'

"We learned that you grieve and you go on," she says. "You can't give up, because we have to look forward to the future. And the same goes for those people. They lost their loved ones. And lost so many people. Everybody hurts, but we have to look to the future.

"Kids who live through war, war memories never go away," says "Huda," 40, a Lebanese mother of three who survived civil war and the bombing of Beirut in 1982.

Huda now lives with her husband and family in a comfortable New Orleans area suburb, with their three young children. Both are working professionals and are natives of Lebanon who have lived in the United States for more than 10 years. She requested anonymity for this story.

"I was driving yesterday and I said to myself, 'When was the first time I had a war?'" Huda recalls. "In 1967, I was 5 years old. We lived in Beirut. I remember my mother telling me, the minute we heard the sirens we have to go down to the bunker. I said, 'Why?' She said there were airplanes that were going to come and bomb Beirut.

"She said, 'Let's do the homework. And as soon as we hear the sirens, we have to run down to the bunkers.' It was the first time I remember every word my mother said."

Two days later, the planes came and bombed the refugee camps at Sabra. "I just remember a silver shadow in sky coming down, bombing, then going up again. I remember how calm my mother was doing my homework. At the same time, I could feel her heart beat. I should control myself as much as she did at that time, so that my kids don't feel my anxiety.

"One day, my father was coming home. And the kids were downstairs getting some Popsicles, because it was very hot in the summer. And then a bomb fell. I knew my father was coming in and I saw my next-door neighbors coming in at the same time to the apartment building. I heard the scream: 'There's two people dead downstairs.' And I said: 'Oh my God! I hope those are my neighbors and not my Dad!'"

Huda, who was 16 at the time, still breaks down at the memory. "I was wishing death to our close neighbors," she says. "That is what war does to people."

Traumatized by years of war as children, Huda and her husband say they are nevertheless trying to teach their children to love and respect others. "We don't even wish these feelings on our enemies," Huda says. "As a mother, I feel the pain of every mother."

Her advice to other parents: "Talk to kids. Get them books. Don't make them too anxious. They are the hope." -- Johnson

Eva Galler at 14
  • Eva Galler at 14

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