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Press Family

Compiled by Esther (Herschman) Rechtschafner

By Doctor Shirley Press, e-mail:

For my father’s history, I had to rely on documents from the ITS, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, and HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.) I also interviewed family and friends. According to ITS records, Gershon Press was born on June 14, 1918, in the Lithuanian town of Kovno. There are no records of my father’s parents Beines and Sonja (nee Cohn) or his younger brothers Beryl, and twins Meyer and Welrel. The only recollection I have of my grandfather that my father told us was that he had been drafted into the Russian army during World War I. My father also had told us that he was really born in 1921 and that his official records were wrong. Sam Sherron who had been a childhood friend of my father’s brother Beryl confirmed this. Sam had also been in the Kovno ghetto with my father. They were reunited at the Feldafing DP (displaced persons) camp in 1945 after both had been in concentration camps. Afterward, they found each other again in America and grew close. When I interviewed Sam in 2010 at age 84, he specifically remembered that my father had been five years older than him. Despite the horrors of the Holocaust, Sam insisted that my father survived to live the life of "a happy person.”

Another person who knows about my father’s past and remembers him very well is our former neighbor, Jim Serchia – the one who gave us kids nickels and dimes for answering his current affairs questions correctly. He and my dad were best friends. Jim said that Gershon had to shoulder a lot of family responsibility after his father died early from a stroke.

“He had to become the breadwinner,” Jim said.

Another fact Jim recalled was that sometime during my father’s early childhood his family moved to Sveksna, Lithuania, not far from the Baltic Sea. The earliest documentation of this town is in the 14th century according to Sveksna: Our Town by Esther Herschman Rechtschafner. She wrote a Jewish history of the town that is available online at According to Rechtschafner's research, Jews had a rich past in Sveksna. The Jewish community dates back from at least the 17th century and was the site of an important Yeshiva renowned for its brilliant scholars. There was also plenty of anti-Semitism, which lasted well into the 20th century. As late as the mid-1930s, a rabbi was accused of killing a Christian boy to use his blood to make matzoh.

At the time of the 1941 German invasion, my father was living and working in Kovno, which is not far from Sveksna. His job was shearing the skin off cattle and curing it into shoe leather. His mother and younger brothers had stayed behind in Sveksna. The Nazis captured them and murdered them with machine guns, part of the Germans' large-scale immediate slaughter of the Jews. They were buried in ditches in a mass grave in Inkakliai, Lithuania, in September of 1941.

My father was arrested on August 15, 1941, at the age of 20, and was confined in Kovno's ghetto where he endured forced labor. In 1943, it was converted to the Kovno concentration camp where he became a slave laborer. On July 29, 1944, he was transferred to Dachau concentration camp in Germany where he was assigned the number 84847. According to the reference book Hidden History of the Kovno Ghetto published by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, out of a total of 235,000 Jews living in Lithuania before the war, only a few thousand survived.

My father told my sister and me that he was a baker inside the camp making bread for the German soldiers. As a result, he was able to hide bread for himself and his friends. On one of his official documents, his profession was listed as weaver. As Barb and I were growing up, we saw no evidence of either trade in his life. He never ever cooked. He never sewed – with one exception; I remember that my father accidently sliced off the edge of his thumb when chopping meat in our grocery store. He calmly and without anesthetic sutured it back together with a needle and thread. He saw a doctor the next day who said he did a fine job. Perhaps, he really did know how to sew.

Our former neighbor and friend Jim related this story about our father saying, “He said he was running away from the Germans during the war and eventually got caught. He said he was fortunate to have been assigned to a German officer and became more or less a valet. He would do chores for him.” My father also told Jim that he remembered the officer as being decent and that he had enough to eat.

My father was liberated from Dachau by the United States Army on April 29, 1945. According to ITS records, he was registered in the DP camp known as Feldafing on October10, 1945. He also spent time in the Landsberg DP camp, the largest such camp in Europe. In my research, I came across Colonel Irving Heymont’s description of the camp in Generations, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s newsletter, the Fall 2009 edition.

“The camp is filthy beyond description. Sanitation is virtually unknown,” he wrote in September 1945. “Words fail me when I try to think of an adequate description. The people of the camp themselves appear demoralized beyond hope of rehabilitation. They appear to be beaten both spiritually and physically, with no hopes or incentives for the future…” The colonel underestimated the resolve of people like my parents and other survivors.

On May 10, 1946, according to the passenger manifest form, my father boarded the "SS Marine Flasher" which sailed from Bremen, Germany. The fare was $142, the equivalent of $1693 in 2013. HIAS and my father’s Uncle Morris and Aunt Rose assisted my father in leaving his devastated life in Europe. He landed in New York on May 20, 1946.

His first cousin Betty Dworkin Ettinger vividly remembers that date because her marriage to Sig Ettinger took place one day earlier in Philadelphia. They were on their honeymoon 90 miles north in New York City. Her father, Uncle Morris Dworkin, knocked on her hotel room door.

“What are you doing here?” she asked in total shock.

“I’m here to pick up your first cousin Gershon who survived the war.”


Click here to view Chapter 7, recounting my father's background, from a book I have written.

Here are photographs (click on any image for a larger view):

Gershon Press and family before the war.  Gershon Press after the war. 
Gershon Press with his mother Sonja and brothers
Beryl, Mayer and Welrel before the war.

Gershon Press probably at a DP camp with his Dachau shirt on.

The Mass Grave.  Inscription. 
The Mass Grave.

The inscription on the back of the Mass Grave photograph.

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