The National Museum of
American Jewish Military History

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Transcending Darkness: A Girl's Journey Out of the Holocaust

In April 1943 German forces made one last push to liquidate the remaining 55,000-60,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to work or death camps. Estelle's father, Samek, a member of the resistance movement, built a bunker in which he and his family hid during the Warsaw ghetto uprising. As SS and police units began roundups they were met with artillery fire from resistance fighters. In retaliation, the SS began razing the ghetto, block by block. The bunker where Estelle and her family were hiding, which was in the basement of a house, was exposed by a bomb. Everyone was dragged out onto the street. The Wakszlak family was marched to the umschlagplatz (concentration point), forced to board freight train cars, and transported to Majdanek. At Majdanek the women, children and men were separated; Samek was wrenched from them and gassed. Miraculously Estelle, her sister and mother survived. At one point her mother Freda was badly beaten by a German guard and could not work. She hid in the barracks, but was discovered. Her name was put on what she thought was a gas chamber list. Estelle and her sister Michla switched places with two women who were on the same list, thus believing that the remaining Wakszlak family members could die together. Michla, Estelle, and Freda were, instead, sent to the Skarzysko concentration camp to work in a munitions factory. Later, they were sent to the Czestochowa concentration camp to work in a different munitions factory. Soviet forces liberated Czestochowa in January of 1945. To escape the pogroms in Poland the three women moved to Bavaria in August 1945 and lived there until 1947, when they moved to the United States to join Michla's two sisters and brother in New York City. Today, Estelle is a retired teacher and reading specialist residing in Chicago, IL. She has three sons and seven grandchildren and continues to be a Holocaust spokesperson around the world."

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