Holocaust survivor shares extraordinary stories with freshman students


Photo Credit: Susan Wechtler

Paul Galan took the time to speak to the English 9 students on his experiences living as a European Jew during the Holocaust.

by Michael Silver, Managing Editor

Paul Galan took the time to share his tragic, yet extraordinary, stories from his experiences as a young Jewish boy during the Holocaust to the English 9 class of Susan Wechtler over a Zoom meeting. 

Galan, a native of Czechoslovakia, was six years old in 1939 when the Nazi regime and their infamous Nuremberg Laws replaced the democratic government of Slovakia . Galan recalls his life changing drastically, starting with the law that forced all Jews to wear a gold star on their clothing. 

Not long after these discriminatory implications were put into place, things took a turn for the worse. As part of Hitler’s plan to annihilate all European Jews, the Nazis had begun to round up Jewish people to prepare to send them to the brutal concentration camps for resettlement.

Galan’s father, a successful grain merchant, received special documents protecting him and his family from being rounded up and shipped off. However, when he showed these documents to the guards who stormed into the Galan’s home in the middle of the night, they tore the papers to shreds. 

The Galan family had faced death multiple times during the Holocaust, doing absolutely everything they could to survive. When they had been rounded up by the Nazi’s for the first time, Galan’s uncle miraculously saved his family, after putting a gun to a guard’s head threatening to take his life if his brother’s documents weren’t to be recognized. 

Galan later found out that all of the people rounded up were sent to and brutally murdered once they arrived at the infamous Treblinka death camp in Poland. 

The Galan’s were eventually sent to a labor camp in Slovakia, but were freed upon the national uprising that liberated all of its prisoners. 

The Galan’s had gone to the mountains with little money and false documents stating they were Catholic, begging people for shelter. One night Galan even recalls a traumatizing experience in which he had to sleep in the same bedroom as a Nazi soldier sheltering in the same home for the night, unbeknownst that he was in a room full of Jews.

During their time in the mountains, Galan’s family was incredibly warned by a German soldier to get out of the village, as he knew that the villagers would find out about their true identities and turn them in. The guard courageously destroyed the report that they were Jews, which potentially saved their lives. 

“I reached out to my mother who was in the cut right next to me. And she took my hand and she held my hand all night long,” Galen exclaimed. “Without anyone who has even fallen asleep even for a moment. We stayed wide awake, alert in fear that the gentleman might start something.”

These are just a few of Galan’s breathtaking, traumatic experiences from the Holocaust as a young child. It is truly a miracle that he was able to survive. 

“Stunning, inspiring, surreal…” some of the many words used by the freshman English class to describe Galan’s stories. While they certainly were traumatizing, the students were all quite moved and thankful to be given the opportunity to learn about his experiences.  

Galan immigrated to New York after the war, where he married, had two children, and became a successful filmmaker. He has decided to devote his retirement to educating the youth about his experiences. 

 “I decided when I retired, that I’m going to spend my time doing what I’m doing; teaching young people about the horrors of war, about hatred, or hate can do to people in the hope that you will all learn from it and become good citizens, that people believe in democracy, which is so important to us in America and do good deeds,” said Galan. “Be kind to your neighbors, be accepting of other people… accepting of each other.”