Survivor Profiles: Pinchas Gutter
It's very important for Holocaust survivors – or anybody else - to spread togetherness and goodwill ... Because drop, by drop, by drop, like water on a stone, the world can become a better place.
Pinchas Gutter was born in Lodz, Poland in 1932. Pinchas was born into a Hasidic family that could trace their roots back four hundred years in Poland. His father and grandfather owned one of the largest wineries in Poland. The family was well established in the community and lived a religious life. However, from an early age, Pinchas experienced anti-Semitism. Pinchas would walk in Lodz with his mother, and because he would be wearing religious garb, he would sometimes have hooligans kick him or pull at his clothing.
As 1939 drew closer, Pinchas slowly realized that things in Poland were changing and that the level of hatred towards Jews was escalating. Not a day went by where Hitler and the Nazi Party weren’t being discussed in the family home. Pinchas’s parents even wanted to leave for Israel as soon as possible, but Pinchas’s grandfather didn’t want them to leave their Polish Hasidic community.
Shortly after the start of the war, the SS came to the family home to take Pinchas’s grandfather. On that day, his grandfather was not home, so instead, the Germans beat Pinchas father into a state of unconsciousness.
This attack made the family realize they could no longer stay in Lodz. Pinchas father tried to make arrangements for the family to leave, but at that point, Jews were no longer allowed to freely travel outside of the country. Pinchas, his sister, and his mother all had blue eyes and blonde hair, which made it possible for them to travel by train to Warsaw undetected. However, Pinchas’s father did not have blonde hair and blue eyes, and so he had to join the family months later in Warsaw by smuggling himself into the city.
In Warsaw, the family found an apartment in a partially bombed building. However, the situation did not become any less dangerous for Pinchas and his family. The Germans were slowly constructing the Warsaw Ghetto. After its completion, Pinchas and his family were forced to live in a designated area surrounded by barbed wire and fencing.
In the ghetto, there were Jews from various parts of Europe. This led to overcrowding and a shortage of accommodations and homes. After a few months, people increasingly knew that Warsaw was only a temporary placement before the Germans resettled them. Fearing liquidation, Pinchas father built a hiding place in the roof of their apartment. As soon as someone would hear the German police arriving, the family would all go in and hide.
The Germans soon started setting buildings on fire to prevent Jews from hiding in their homes. This brutal form of assault resulted in many Jews finding other means by which to hide. For instance, many, including Pinchas’s family, hid in underground bunkers. One day, during the Warsaw uprising, the Germans discovered the bunkers and threatened to gas them. Pinchas and his family were forced to come out and were immediately taken to a resettlement point. Latvian, Ukrainian, and Polish auxiliary forces beat and crammed Pinchas’s family into a government building with other captured Jews from the ghetto. After spending several days in a crowded room with little to no food and water, the family was sent to Majdanek concentration camp.
Upon arriving at Majdanek, the men and women were separated. Pinchas was forced to one side with his father while his mother and sister were forced to go in a different direction. This would be the last time Pinchas would see his mother and little sister ever again. Pinchas and his father, along with all the other men, were forced into changing rooms and ordered to undress. The Germans then proceeded to chase the men out of the dressing room. Due to the commotion and crowding, Pinchas and his father were separated. It was in that dressing room that Pinchas would see his father for the last time.
While living in a designated barrack, Pinchas tried to stay busy, but the barrack chiefs frequently beat and abused anyone they wanted to. Food was scarcely provided, but a few Dutch Jews working in the kitchen were able to sneak Pinchas a few extra rations.
One day, a Nazi guard came into Pinchas barrack requesting electricians and builders. Although Pinchas had no experience in those fields, he decided to go along with the guard. Pinchas, along with another group of boys, was taken into another barrack and underwent another medical exam. Those who passed the exam were given a different uniform and food. They were then dumped into a train and were taken to an ammunition factory.
Pinchas found a job exploding old ammunitions, which was done to gather gun powder. Sometime around the summer of 1994, as the war was nearing its end, the Germans started evacuating camps. It was announced that there would be a selection where some people would be taken away by rail carts and others would be going by foot. Pinchas ended up not being chosen in the selection due to the help of an older friend who had helped Pinchas look healthier than he was.
After surviving the selection, Pinchas was taken to another work factory. However, as the Russians advanced further, Pinchas was once again forced into a train. This train brought Pinchas to Buchenwald concentration camp. In Buchenwald, Pinchas had to live off raw potatoes and the occasional morsel of bread, which was usually shared among 10-18 people. Fortunately, Pinchas was sent to work in the kitchen, where he was able to sneak small amounts of food to sustain himself.
By April of 1945, Pinchas was sent on a death march from Germany to Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. Occasionally, when walking through cities, civilian populations would attack them. Other times, out of pity, some civilians threw food out their windows when they saw the prisoners. However, the German guards would frequently take the food and shoot at the window of the person who dared to offer some form of aid.
A few weeks after arriving in Theresienstadt, Pinchas was finally liberated on May 8, 1945. Now free, Pinchas had survived six Nazi concentration camps. With the help of the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, Pinchas was taken to Britain with other children for rehabilitation. He stayed in England for three years before moving to multiple other countries including, France, Israel, and South Africa. In 1985, Pinchas immigrated to Canada with his wife and children. In Canada, Pinchas continues to devote his time to educating people about the Holocaust, volunteering as a chaplain, and working as an honorary full-time Cantor in the Kiever Shul.
His hologram tells his story through Illinois Holocaust Museum’s Abe & Ida Cooper Survivor Stories Experience.