Aaron Elster was born in 1933 in the small northeastern village of Sokolow-Podlaski in Poland. He lived in the Sokolow Ghetto with his two sisters, mother, and father until the liquidation of the ghetto in September of 1942. Read on to learn how Aaron escaped the liquidation, in his own words:
"It must have been around five in the morning, My mother woke me up: 'Get dressed in a hurry! We have to go and hide!' And I remember the fear because I knew what was going to happen to us. And suddenly you heard shooting, and screams. The ghetto was surrounded by soldiers and screaming, the Gestapo screaming. And I remember we were lined up against a wall, all of us. And as I was sitting there next to my dad and my little sister Sarah, who's been breaking my heart for most of my life. I remember exactly what she was wearing and the sad look in her eyes stays with me forever, because I was thinking here's a six-year-old little girl, don't know what's going on. And then my dad whispers to me, he says, 'Run.' So what I did is as the people were in the line, I sort of crawled behind the people on my hands and my knees 'til the end of the market place. See, I ran into a house that belonged to an uncle of mine. And about 200 yards from the house was the barbed wire fence and normally you'd have guards there, and I didn't see anybody. But there was a woman that stood on the outside of the ghetto, an old woman, with a babushka on her head and a long, dark brown skirt. She kept motioning to me and hollering in Polish, 'Come!' So I started running to the barbed wire and she came up to the barbed wire fence and she lifted the thorny strands, and I crawled through the barbed wire and I cut my leg on the thorns and I was bleeding profusely and I was so scared that the pain doesn't mean anything to me.And I still have a picture of this woman. And she smiled at me and she says 'Run!'"
After escaping, he hid in various surrounding farms. Eventually, Aaron found refuge in the attic of a Polish family, where he hid for two years until the war's end. When describing his experiences living in this attic, he referred to this small space as his "safe haven." After the war, Aaron was one of only twenty-nine people that survived out of the original 5,000 Jewish people that lived in his town. He says, "Only two children survived on their own: my sister and I." Aaron lived in several orphanages throughout Poland, and eventually was smuggled out of Poland to various Displaced Persons camps in West Germany.
Aaron and his sister came to the United States in June of 1947, and adjusting to life was difficult. He explains, "I dealt with hate and I had to overcome that because as a teenager I wanted Germany bombed out of existence. And then you start realizing that if you continue to hate, you're destroying your own life."