Saturday, March 24, 2007

By Kelly Savio

Gil Walter, a survivor of the Holocaust, holds a photo of his father, a Catholic who was in the German military.

Even in his earliest memories, Gil Walter knew he was somehow “different.” He didn’t know why, but he did know that as a child, other boys would spit at him or call him dirty names for no apparent reason. He can still sing the German song children used to taunt him with. It wasn’t until he was older that he understood being a Jew in Berlin during the late 1930s and early 1940s was what made him “different.”

Gil’s sister, Margot, was 12 years older than him, and it was she who told him about the first time he was labeled with the Star of David. In 1939, at just 2 years old, Gil fell victim to a polio epidemic in his family’s apartment building. When he was taken to the hospital, staff members put a large six-pointed star on his window to indicate a Jew inhabited the room.

“As soon as my mother saw that, she told my sister to go to the hospital and pick me up,” said Gil, a Morgan Hill resident who is now 69. “So, my sister came and took me to another hospital. But they wouldn’t take me because I was a Jew and they were afraid they would be raided by the Nazis. She took me to every hospital in Berlin, but no one would treat me. So she brought me home. A couple of days later, the Nazis came to the hospital I had been in and took away all the Jewish patients and the doctor who had treated me. He was a polio specialist, but he was Jewish, so they took him to Auschwitz.”