Holocaust survivor Phil Gans dies at age 91

"While it would be easy to be angry, Phil was truly a gentle soul," said Jerry Weiner, a longtime Sioux City businessman

By EARL HORLYK/SIOUX CITY JOURNAL/TNS
October 4, 2019 02:40
3 minute read.
Holocaust survivor Phil Gans dies at age 91

A visitor to the US Holocaust Memorial Museum walks past a mural of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Washington, January 26, 2007. (photo credit: REUTERS/JIM YOUNG)

SIOUX CITY - For an entire decade, Philip L. Gans shared his harrowing story of surviving as a prisoner at the Auschwitz Concentration Camp with more than 25,000 Siouxland students during Tolerance Week observances held the first week in April between 2005 and 2015.

Despite being the only member of his family on his father's side to survive the Holocaust, Gans was never filled with hate.

"While it would be easy to be angry, Phil was truly a gentle soul," said Jerry Weiner, a longtime Sioux City businessman who started the city's annual Tolerance Week with his wife, Kathy. "He was a great man but also a gentle soul."

Gans died in Clearwater, Florida, on Sept. 27 at the age of 91.

Born in Amsterdam, Holland, Gans lived there until he was taken by Nazis to Auschwitz from August 1943 to January 1945. He was later moved to the Flossenburg Concentration Camp in Bavaria, Germany, from January 1945 until April 1945, when he was liberated by the American Army.

"Phil was just a teenager when he was in the concentration camps," said Jenni Malsom, a now-retired Sioux City-based educator who befriended Gans. "That's something you never forget."

Miraculously, Gans discovered his mother's only sister had escaped the Holocaust by moving to the Caribbean island of Aruba. He lived with this aunt in Aruba in 1946 before moving to the United States in 1950.

After serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, Gans spent the majority of his working life in the oil industry before retiring to Clearwater in 1986.

"Many Holocaust survivors wanted to forget their past," Weiner said. "Phil wanted it to be a lesson of what can happen when bad people are allowed to do bad things."

Gans had been giving talks of surviving Auschwitz when he was introduced to Weiner at the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida.

"My wife, Kathy, and I had seen (the 2004 documentary) 'Paper Clips' (which detailed the teaching of the Holocaust in a small Tennessee town) and wanted to show it as a Tolerance Week program for eighth graders in Siouxland," Weiner said. "In addition, we wanted Phil to talk to students."

Gans welcomed the opportunity, even dispensing special rubber bracelets with the simple message: "Erase the hate."

Gans became an annual speaker during Siouxland's Tolerance Week programs held at the Orpheum Theatre. He also tried to make special appearances at several local schools, including the Winnebago Community School, when he'd speak to Malsom's life skill class.

"You wouldn't think that (an elderly Jewish man) would connect with Native American kids, but Phil was wonderful and the students loved him," Malsom said. "I think Phil had a rapport with teenagers because the Holocaust occurred when he was their age."

Gans would make as many as 10 presentations, every year, in Sioux City, said Sioux City filmmaker Lou Ann Lindblade.

"He moved at a pace that would have been too much for someone half his age," Lindblade said.

For his effort, Gans was named an honorary alumnus at Morningside College, in addition to being named the "official Holocaust educator of Siouxland" by the Sioux City Council.

Gans kept this pace until 2016, when the then-88-year-old became too ill to travel.

"Had I gone through what Phil did, I think I'd be angry," Weiner said. "Phil didn't have an angry bone in his body. He thought the best way to live his life was to love people, not hate them. Remember what happened but try to erase the hate."

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