Australasian Union of Jewish Students

 

Testimony of Noa Bloch

 


Overview of Grandmother's Story

My grandmother, Veronika (Vera) Medding, is a survivor and a pioneer.

Born to Emmanual and Rose Gelley in 1934, Vera had two brothers – one older and one younger. Although Rose was originally from Budapest, she moved to Emmanuel’s hometown of Topolcany (a small town in what was then known as Czechoslovakia) where they raised their family.

In 1942, when Vera was only 8-years-old, her life changed forever. After the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, it was too dangerous for the Gelleys to remain in their hometown. As it was less risky to smuggle a small Jewish girl, Vera was the first of her family to attempt crossing the Hungarian border to safety. She was successfully smuggled into Budapest and was “adopted” by her maternal grandparents until her brothers and parents could join her. Although life returned to relative normality, the Gelleys were forced into hiding in 1944 when the Nazis invaded Hungary. They were soon discovered by the SS. The family was divided. Vera never saw her father again.  She, her mother and her two brothers were sent to Bergen-Belsen, a German concentration camp. Her father was sent to Buchenwald and subsequently Bergen-Belsen after surviving the Death Marches. He died a week before liberation.

After months of hunger, typhus and life amongst over 36,000 unburied bodies, Vera was liberated by the British Army on 15 April 1945. Miraculously, her mother managed to keep all three of her children alive throughout the War by qualifying for a job in the kitchen and stealing food. Had she been discovered, she would have been put to death immediately.

When the Gelleys returned home to Topolcany, it was clear they were no longer welcome. Although Hitler had been defeated, antisemitism was still rife. Deciding to start a new life for her children, Rose decided to apply for visas to Australia where she already had some family who had immigrated before the War. Vera arrived in Melbourne in February 1949.

Since arriving in Australia, Vera finished high school, university, married and had 3 daughters, 10 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. Like so many other survivors, she defied the odds of her painful past. She not only survived, she rebuilt.

 

Life Influence

This family history has had a profound impact on my life. Knowing how much my grandmother was vicitmised, simply for being Jewish, I am that much prouder of living an actively Jewish and Zionist life. Every day that I practice Judaism and work for the community, I am defying Hitler and continuing my grandmother’s legacy of rebuilding.

Additionally, my family’s past has taught me not to take anything for granted. For many years, my grandmother lived in fear. Would she survive? Would she see her father again? Would she have a home again? I feel so blessed to have grown up in Australia – a country that embodies the values of democracy, tolerance and multiculturalism. Knowing how much my people and family have lost, I am that much more grateful for what I have.

 

Message to share

My message to future students: do not be complacent. We are fortunate to have grown up in a time and country where minorities are free to exercise their religions and cultures without fear of persecution. But this freedom can easily be lost. My grandmother may have pioneered the rebuilding of the Gelley family, but it is my role to continue to preserve it. I ask you to do the same for your family.