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Ignatz and Mala Gandsman

When I was around 10, I was shocked to see my grandfather eating a loaf of moldy bread from our trash compactor. My father told me that he and his parents nearly starved during World War II, but he shared the story of their escape from Nazi-
occupied Poland only decades later.

After Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, my grandparents Ignatz and Mala fled to the Soviet Union. They were married in Lipiceck, an industrial town, where my father Yacov (later changed to Elan) was born in 1941, the same year Germany launched a surprise attack on the Soviet Union. Stalin moved more than 300 factories east to the Ural mountains, and the Gandsman family was sent East as well, via a three-month cattle-train ride.

Ignatz volunteered in the Red Army and fought at the siege of Leningrad, where hundreds of thousands were killed. His whereabouts were unknown for more than a year until Mala received a letter from the Soviet government saying he had died. She received a pension for a year until one day Ignatz suddenly reappeared, after nearly freezing to death in the forests outside of present-day St. Petersburg.

After the war, the family lived as refugees in Paris for a year, until they left for Uruguay. They wanted to go to Argentina, but under the country’s dictator, Juan Peron, Argentina was not welcoming Jewish immigrants – while resettling Nazis in hiding. With the help of smugglers, the Gandsman family entered Argentina and settled in Buenos Aires, where my father grew up.

Dana Gandsman

Dana Gandsman’s father tells his family’s story in “From the Urals to the Andes: A Family Memoir,” available on



(Photo:  Dana Gandsman's Grandparents Mala and Yitzhak, father Yacov, and aunt
Hannah Gandsman in 1946 at a Jewish Refugee Camp in France where they lived
temporarily before their journey to South America)



Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyar 5784