Birthdate: February 1, 1932
Birthplace: Kovno, Lithuania
Religious Identity: Jewish
“First the Russians invaded Kovno and then the Germans. The Russian invasion was kind of not too much happening in the beginning. I was a child, they were just soldiers coming in. As time progressed, things changed.”
Francine Gelertner was born in 1932 in Lithuania, just one year shy of Hitler’s election to power. She and her family fell under Soviet control and were persecuted for their wealth. In 1940, her father was sent to exile in Siberia and the family never saw him again. They were told that he died there. After a few months they fell under German occupation and the family was forced into a ghetto, except Francine’s older sister who managed to escape to Russia where she lived out the rest of her life. Francine remembers that she and her mother stayed behind because she had contracted the mumps, and could not travel. After the ghetto was liquidated, Francine, along with her mother, grandmother, and two aunts were sent to Stutthof concentration camp. They were separated upon arrival, and her grandmother was immediately killed due to her age. Her two aunts died from fever while in the camp. Francine and her mother survived until liberation – they were liberated by the Russians. Francine and her mother did not want to go with the Russians due to their previous experiences, so they went west with the American soldiers instead, to a DP camp in Germany. Francine came to the U.S. in 1950 and settled in Pittsburgh. She met her late husband, Simon, at the local YMHA, Simon was also a Holocaust survivor. The couple married and had two children, and now have 4 grandchildren. Francine says that she likes to celebrate everyday like it is her birthday.
“I met my spouse in 1950 at the Jewish YMHA, where all the newcomers came and we had our own little group of people: some Polish, some Lithuanian, and we met there and fell in love and married in March of 1952.”