By SAUNDRA AMRHEIN and WAVENEY ANN MOORE
So as Garmaine Pitchon, 75, welcomes the Sabbath with her family, this ordinary tableau is a quiet triumph. It might have been enough that she survived the Holocaust. But the Clearwater mother, grandmother and great grandmother also miraculously beat sterilization while the procedure was under way.
Out of that cruelty, Mrs. Pitchon learned the importance of accepting all people even when others didn't. Shortly after arriving in the United States in 1951, she tried to give up her seat to a pregnant black woman, but the bus driver explained that was not done. A white passenger kicked her.
In the concentration camps, Mrs. Pitchon lived on meager bits of food, stolen or bartered with pieces of gold she scraped from the dentures of dead fellow prisoners. "We become animals," she said.
She was born in Salonika, Greece, and her comfortable life ended with the Nazis. The 15-year-old, her mother and five sisters were herded onto a box car for Auschwitz. Only she survived the death camp, kept alive for medical experiments.
She can never forget going to the clinic. "We have a lady with a gun and she point a gun, saying, 'Go inside,' " Mrs. Pitchon recalled.
Inside, she was given electric shocks. For two days after, she vomited. Worse was to come. She was to be sterilized, with the notorious Dr. Josef Mengele watching.
"Mengele say, 'Take everything out,' " she remembered. "We don't want any Jewish children." Fortuitously, an emergency called him away after only one ovary had been removed. The elderly Jewish surgeon quickly stitched her up, saying, "Name your first son after me."
After the war, she returned to Solonika and at 19, married Simon Pitchon, now 84. Unlike many victims of torture, Mrs. Pitchon has not suffered from flashbacks and nightmares.
"I think Garmaine's greatest strength is that she is able to talk openly," said Joan Benjamin of Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services. "She fights every day and she doesn't give in and her children and grandchildren are a tremendous support."
Of being in America, Mrs. Pitchon said: "When you go in the evening into the house, rich and poor, you find all the family right. Everything is going to be okay."
© 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
490 First Avenue South St. Petersburg, FL 33701 727-893-8111
From the Times
local news desks