Dr. B’s Classes Meet the “Lucky” Holocaust survivor: Agi Geva


Juliette Viera

The evening of Thursday, March 10th, first-year Kearny High school teacher, Dr. Bertolero, set up a virtual meeting with fellow brave holocaust survivor Agi Geva, following up the lesson plans of WWII. All of her junior U.S history students were given the chance to ask questions and hear from an actual survivor of the horrid event that Jewish people and others were faced during the unfortunate rise of the nazis. 

Hosted by the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C, staff Leah Zinker was the interviewer in charge of the discussion. The Museum collaborates with multiple holocaust survivors from 1933 to 1945 in this program both in person and now virtually. 

As students entered the library, excused from their regular 4th-period classes, seats were filled in front of the smartboard where the meeting was projected for all to see. Once the meeting began, the screencasts the moving image of Agi herself, ginger tight curls, red brimmed glasses, sitting down in a fairly small room occupied with books and photos from all decades in the background. 

Before she begins her story she comments  “That you are the last generation to see a survivor like me live, answering any question, any question at the mind because later, it will all be books, videos and uh other people talking about our experiences, it would not be the same” – “So use this time please to ask anything you would like to know.” 

92 years old, Mrs. Geva has spoken to multiple schools about her experiences and stories of the concentration camps and her survival. Agi Geva was 14 years old when deported to Auschwitz with her younger sister and mother, her father passed not long before. She starts her story with the statement that everything has changed after her father’s passing. 

They were taken to a brick factory building where they were transported in small train wagons filled with 30-40 women of all ages and circumstances. Geva recalls a movement when the door opened after the 3 and ½ hour dreadful trip “When the doors opened, one of the guards who opened the door said, ”Oh my God, how lucky you are”- a phrase often repeated to her. She explains that the reason they were lucky was that no one has died in the wagons as others have; she agrees that lucky she was.

 “We were all the time at gunpoint,” Geva says, “My mother did not want to make another mistake. And she has known of the horrible place and leaves the brick factory…She had to risk it…Lucky that she got back” 

A specific segment of the story was when she explains one of the many moments that saved her, her sister, and mother from separating, involving a scarf. She states that the women were forced to form two lines, right and left. Girls under 16 were put in the left line as well as elderly women and women with babies/pregnant. Her mother told Agi and her sister to wrap a scarf around their head to appear around the ages of 18 or 19. Present-day Geva demonstrates to KHS students with a scarf on hand, jokingly saying she already appears older now. However, this same trick was a key element to the survival and goal of sticking together. 

Agi later goes on to describe the Auschwitz concentration camp saying, “We were so humiliated that never in my life could have imagined a thing like that,” “We were sent to the showers where some guard told us the same word you will hear several times from me ‘how Lucky you are, oh my God how can I be so lucky having no clothes on, having no hair on my body not being bad…” she spoke with her heavy accent. Geva admits that she truly was so lucky in those showers that it was water coming out and not gas. “I personally should have not known anything of what was happening,” she says. 

From here Agi goes into what happened when transported to the Plaszow Concentration camp. An image appearing on the smart board of the site as Geva recalls “We looked like we were slaves in Egypt and it felt like that”. However, her trips don’t stop there and she and her family couldn’t have thought it would get worse. They returned to Auschwitz, where there, they were met with another selection, this time made by Josef Mengele who Geva describes to be known as “the angel of death”. 

Luck as it seems has been on Agi’s side again with selection as she states the reason she continued to stick with her sister and mother was because of her fluent German (Geva is originally from Hungary). When begging a guard to switch sides to be closer to her family she tells students “-he realized that this conversation was in German, He was so impressed that he waved me [to go to that side]” Emphasizing that “If it hadn’t spoken German, I wouldn’t be here today” 

Agi recalls many experiences and points out specific moments she believes she was most lucky, the death march, knowledge of multiple languages, and of course the risks her mother has taken. She even at one point shows her scars in the form of tattoos that were put on all women in these camps up to the screen. At the end of the interview, Agi’s final statement to the class was advice, stating “Not to stay indifferent, interfere if you see injustice”. 

Interviewer Leah Zinker, who has been steadily asking and organizing the questions, asks Agi any final words to say to the students, of which she responds saying “Yes, a few remarks, one that I suppose that your attention and your interest give me really much comfort to be able to talk and tell you the story.  I will suggest that everyone should at least learn more than one language, you will never be out of a job if you know one more language fluently, of course, two or three would be much better…” 

After an hour or so of listening, students expressed their impressions of the meeting. One junior says, “Reading and learning about these events is a lot more different than hearing it from someone who actually lived through it, I appreciate Dr. B for letting us experience this”.