“Resistance, Resilience and Hope: Holocaust Survivor Stories,” a co-production of Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center and Studio C, is a podcast series that tells the stories of Holocaust Survivors through intimate conversation.
On this episode we hear from Ruth Gilbert.
Ruth was born in 1938 in Łódź, Poland. Upon Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939, Ruth and her family were forced into the Łódź Ghetto. Ruth’s father recognized how difficult things would continue to be and, with savings he had secreted into the ghetto, went to the black market and purchased fake IDs for Ruth and her mother. In 1941, he bribed a guard to let them sneak out of the ghetto under the barbed wire. His plan was to make his way to Russia and join the Russian army, while Ruth and her mother would hide with a family in Lublin, Poland for the duration of the war. But after a short time, the Polish family was evacuated, leaving Ruth and her mother homeless.
We spoke over Zoom.full transcript
On this episode, we hear from Ernest Fruehauf.
Ernest was born in 1929 in Kitzingen, Germany, where his family owned a successful café located below their second-floor apartment. As a young child, Ernest experienced the rising tide of hate and antisemitism in Germany. On November 10th, 1938, during the events of Kristallnacht, an angry mob ransacked the café. His father was arrested and imprisoned at Dachau concentration camp, and his family was forced from their home to live in a community building, or Juden Haus. Ernest’s father knew his family was in danger. Following thousands of Jews, he arranged to flee Germany in 1941. Although arranging refuge in the United States was difficult, his father remained undaunted and, sponsored by a relative here, the Fruehaufs got out of Germany just in time.
We spoke over Zoom.full transcript
On this episode, we hear from Judy Kolb.
Judy’s maternal grandparents owned a fabric and dressmaking shop in Swinemünde, Germany, a fashionable spa town on the Baltic Sea. Their daughter, Carla, met a cantor named Leopold Fleischer in January 1937 when he moved to Swinemünde and rented a room in the same building. Carla and Leopold fell in love and married in the spring of 1939. By that time, the Nazis had begun encouraging Jews to emigrate from Germany, and when Judy’s grandfather, Julius, was arrested and imprisoned for six weeks in the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, his wife, Martha, insisted that the family leave Germany as soon as possible. She set her sights on Japanese-occupied Shanghai, an open port city which refugees did not need a visa to enter. To be able to afford passage there, Martha sold her house, clothing store, and some furnishings to a wealthy, non-Jewish neighbor. She bought tickets for the entire family on the German Lloyd Line. After obtaining exit papers to leave Germany, Martha presented the passenger tickets to the Gestapo at Sachsenhausen. Soon after, Julius was released from the camp.
In June of 1939, Julius, Martha, Leopold, Carla, and her brother Heinz embarked for Shanghai. The journey took four weeks.
On this episode, we hear from Estelle Glaser Laughlin.
Estelle was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1929. When she was 10 years old, her family was forced into the Warsaw Ghetto. The family hid in a secret room to avoid deportation during liquidations in 1942. Estelle’s father built a bunker in which the family hid during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943. The bunker was eventually exposed by a bomb, and the family was sent to Majdanek Extermination Camp, when Estelle was 13 years old.
Estelle Glaser Laughlin arrived in America with her sister and mother in 1947. With only three years of public schooling and brief underground tutoring in the ghetto, she entered college and earned a master’s degree in education and taught in Montgomery County, Maryland. After retiring, Estelle found a new passion in writing prose. Her memoir, Transcending Darkness: A Girl’s Journey Out of the Holocaust, published by Texas Tech University Press in 2012, was named a finalist for the 2012 ForeWord Review Book of the Year Awards. Her new novel, Hanna, I Forgot To Tell You, also published by Texas Tech University Press, was released last year. She’s currently writing another novel. Estelle has three high-achieving sons, seven grandchildren, and four great grandchildren. Of course, they are all wonderful, she says. We spoke in late 2019 in her living room.
Also available: a “Podcast Extra” in which Estelle talks more about her mother and sister and her work with the Museum.
On this episode, we hear from Ernst “Ernie” Heimann.
Ernie Heimann was born in 1929 in Mainz, Germany, 30 miles west of Frankfurt. During Kristallnacht, November 9th and 10th, 1938, Ernie’s school and synagogue were destroyed. In the aftermath of these events, his parents knew that they had to get Ernie out of Germany. Days later the British Parliament passed a bill that would allow the temporary admission of 10,000 unaccompanied Jewish children into the United Kingdom. His aunt was in England visiting friends at the time and she made provisions for Ernie to come to England. On his tenth birthday he learned that in one week he would leave for England to live with a family in a suburb of London.
We spoke at his home.
Also available: a “Podcast Extra” in which Ernie talks about his family’s roots and Jewish life in small town Germany.
On this episode, we hear from Vera Burstyn.
Vera was born in 1939 in Budapest, Hungary. In 1942, her father was taken to a forced labor camp, sent to the Russian front, and never heard from again. When Germany occupied Hungary in 1944, Vera’s apartment building became a so-called yellow star house and she and her mother struggled to survive, with the city under constant assault of Nazi bombs and day-to-day living conditions extremely difficult. That fall, her mother was sent on a forced march to Austria and eventually to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Left on her own, Vera lived in a Red Cross orphanage in Budapest until an aunt with Swedish papers found her and took her in.
We spoke over Zoom.
Also available: a “Podcast Extra” in which Vera talks about jobs she had in Chicago and her involvement with the Holocaust Museum.
On this episode, we hear from Erna Blitzer Gorman.
Erna was born in France but ended up spending almost two years of the war hiding with her family on a farm in Ukraine. In the tiny hayloft where they hid, Erna had to keep so still that she became mute and her muscles atrophied so severely that she temporarily lost the ability to walk. Just ten years old at the time she escaped this confinement, with the war still on, Erna and her family crawled in the snow near the Russian border with Katyusha rocket artillery lighting up the sky.
We spoke over Zoom.
Also available: a “Podcast Extra” in which Erna talks about Poland after the war and telling her story.
On this episode, we hear from Ben Goldwater.
Ben was born in December 1938, in Brussels, Belgium. He was living in Eisden, a small city in the north of Belgium, near Antwerp, when war broke out in September 1939. When the German army attacked the French and British armies though Luxembourg and Belgium, his family fled to France. The French government was not friendly to refugees, particularly Jewish refugees, so after several months, his family returned to Belgium, settling in Mons, near the French border. Ben’s family lived under constant fear of denunciation as Jews and did whatever they could to avoid the local Gestapo. Ben’s father was active in the Belgian resistance and used his underground contacts to find a woman in a nearby village who was willing to provide a hiding place for Ben and his sister.
We spoke in the Illinois Holocaust Museum Library just before his 81st birthday — and the 70th anniversary of his arrival in Chicago.
Also available: a “Podcast Extra” in which Ben talks about antisemitism in the Belgian schools he attended.
On this episode, we hear from Ida Paluch Kersz.
Ida was born in Poland in May 1939, just months before Germany invaded Poland and the Second World War began. The Nazis immediately occupied the city she lived in, creating a ghetto that ultimately saw the deportation of 35,000 Jews to Auschwitz concentration camp. In the summer of 1942, with deportation imminent, her family tragically came apart, but Ida was given a new life, her Jewish identity known only to her new parents, a young Polish Christian couple anxious to start a family. Ida’s twin brother was also saved, but the two would not see each other — or know the other’s fate — for 50 years.
We spoke over Zoom.
“Resistance, Resilience and Hope: Holocaust Survivor Stories” podcast series generously sponsored by:
Photo credits: Scott Edwards; Ron Gould; John Pregulman