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Title: A Life Of Triumph
Author: Esther Weber
Publisher: Mazo Publishers
There has been a great deal of Holocaust literature in recent years. The works are always painful and not easy to read, but this genre of literature is taking on a special urgency as the number of eyewitnesses to this famous chapter in Jewish history is rapidly dwindling. We have a duty to pass on these stories to future generations so that the scourge of Holocaust deniers do not gain credibility and validation.
The author of A Life Of Triumph is first and foremost a survivor. The horror of having to spend one’s entire childhood in hiding is difficult to comprehend, and even more difficult to reveal. Indeed, Ester Weber kept silent for 39 years, built a life and a family, and finally dedicated that life to helping wounded Israeli soldiers.
Weber was born in 1937 in the small town of Vengluvka, Poland, two years before the German invasion. At 27, her mother was murdered by the Nazis trying to reach a work camp in Germany, and Esther was placed by her father with a Polish friend, Joseph Bik and his family, in an effort to save her life. They reluctantly agreed to raise her as their own baptized Christian child. Young as she was (only three), she remembered her father’s parting words: “Always remember that you are Jewish, but don’t reveal this secret to anyone because they will kill you.”
One day, she was recognized by some Polish teenagers who reported the family to the police for hiding a Jewish child. She was smuggled out and sent to her 18-year-old aunt Eva in Warsaw, also in hiding and living with a Polish family while she worked as a seamstress. Her father had disappeared, and her aunt was trying to save her own life but nevertheless took the child. The wife of the Polish family greatly resented the five-year-old living with them and was cruel and abusive, despite the fact that they were being well paid for their services by the aunt. They lived close to the Warsaw ghetto where babies were often thrown from windows in an effort to save them, followed by screams and gunfire as their mothers were shot by the Nazis.
In 1945, as the war was coming to an end, Germans frequently rounded up the citizens of Warsaw to kill them, rather than leave them as witnesses to their atrocities when the Russians arrived. Esther and her aunt were in the death march, but managed to escape and hide once again. Liberated by the Russians in May 1945, the two finally returned to Krzemienica, where Esther was reunited with her father.
Despite the liberation, pogroms continued, and Esther and her father left via Czechoslovakia and Hungary to Salzburgh in Austria, and then to Germany, hopefully en route to the United States. Esther was registered with HIAS, an organization that sent orphans out of Europe first, with her father intending to follow her. This was 1948 and Esther was 10, alone on a boat from Bremen to Ellis Island, from where she was sent to an orphanage in the Bronx until her great-uncle in Brooklyn claimed her, welcomed her into his home, and sent her to public school.
Just as she began to adjust, a letter arrived from her father with the heartbreaking news that he would not be following her, but was going to Israel to marry her Aunt Miriam. Once again abandoned, Esther was sent to live with other family members, until they too wanted her to leave. Her father never sent for her, so at age 19 in 1956 she married her 20-year-old high school sweetheart Irwin. Today, after 50 years of happy marriage, they have three children and 10 grandchildren. For many years Esther kept her past a secret and even her husband did not know her Holocaust history.
It was 16 years before she saw her father again, when he came for a visit. From that time, the author – now an art dealer – made frequent visits to Israel and helped many Israeli artists get established.
The family’s connection to Israel kept strengthening, and during the Lebanon War in 1982, Esther and her husband volunteered at Tel Aviv’s Tel Hashomer Hospital, helping wounded soldiers and amputees, and enabling a number of them to visit the U.S. for rest and recreation for three weeks. The bond between them and the disabled Israeli war veterans became even stronger over the years, and they were often honored guests at their weddings. Today Esther believes that she was saved for a purpose, and she continues this work to this day.
The book is liberally illustrated with old and contemporary photos. The story is very simply told, yet this somehow makes it all the more compelling. This book is a wonderful addition to the genre of Holocaust literature.