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Gabriele, the daughter of Fritz and Ilse (Teppich) Silten, was born in Berlin, Germany. Berlin, a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city, was home to a highly assimilated Jewish community. Gabriele's father was a pharmacist and the Siltens had a comfortable life.
After Hitler came into power in Germany in 1933, life for Germany's Jews became increasingly difficult. Hitler's Nazi party passed various antisemitic measures stripping German Jews of their citizenship, cutting them off from all social interaction with non-Jews, and harshly restricting Jewish economic life. Jews were barred from most professions and the majority became impoverished. In 1938, Gabriele and her family fled to Holland. Settling in Amsterdam, Gabriele made friends with a girl her own age living in the same building. They attended kindergarten together, and Gabriele quickly learned Dutch.
The Nazis invaded Holland in May 1940, just before Gabriele's seventh birthday. Gabriele was no longer allowed to play with her non-Jewish friends. She had to attend a private school for Jewish children and wear the yellow star.
Arrested in a massive raid on June 20, 1943, Gabriele and her family were sent to the Westerbork transit camp. In January 1944, Gabriele and her parents were transported in cattle cars to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia. Conditions were horrible. The ghetto was extremely overcrowded and infested with typhus-spreading vermin. Gabriele was fortunate to be able to stay with her mother and father. Nearly everyone worked 10 hours a day, seven days a week. There was little food, and Gabriele often went hungry. Ten year-old Gabriele was put to work as a message carrier in the old-age home.
Prisoners at Theresienstadt were generally transported to other camps in Poland, where they were murdered. Gabriele and her parents were still in Theresienstadt when it was liberated on May 8, 1945. They were weak and in poor health.