Nesse was born to an observant Jewish family in Siauliai, known in Yiddish as Shavl. Her parents owned a store that sold dairy products. The city was home to a vibrant Jewish community of almost 10,000 people. It had over a dozen synagogues and was renowned for its impressive cultural and social organizations.
1933–39: My family was very religious and observed all the Jewish laws. I attended Hebrew school and was raised in a loving household, where the values of community and caring always were stressed. After the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, we heard from relatives in Lodz that Jews there were being treated horribly. We could not believe it; how could your neighbors denounce you and not stand up to help you?
1940–44: On June 26, 1941, the Germans occupied our city, just four days after theinvasion of the USSR. In the weeks that followed, SS killing units and Lithuanian collaborators shot about 1,000 Jews in the nearby Kuziai forest. In August, we were forced to move into a ghetto, where we lived in constant hunger and fear. There I witnessed many "selections," during which men, women, and children were taken to their deaths. My father was among them. In 1944 as the Soviet army approached, the remaining Jews were deported to theStutthof concentration camp. There I was given the number 54015.
From Stutthof, Nesse was transported to several camps, and was sent on a death march in January 1945. In the freezing cold winter weather and with little food, many of the prisoners died. On March 10, 1945, she was liberated by Soviet troops. In 1950 after spending five years in the displaced persons camp inFeldafing, Germany, Nesse immigrated to the United States.