- Location: The Schulman Center for Jewish Lifeā'Vanderbilt Hillel
Estelle Laughlin is a child survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, the Uprising, and concentration camps. She immigrated to America at eighteen with only three years of public school education. Estelle was born in Warsaw in 1929, she lived with her parents and older sister in relative peace and calm until Hitler invaded Poland when she was ten years old. Soon after, the family home on Nowolipki Street became part of the Warsaw Ghetto, where 400,000 Jews were squeezed into a 1.3-square-mile area – 30 percent of the city’s population forced to live in less than three percent of the city’s space.
During the occupation, Estelle’s remembers her sister Freda saying, “Please, Mama, I don’t want to live like this,” as they watched the bodies of friends dangle from the gibbet in the center of Warsaw’s Apel Platz. “I cannot take the indignities and brutalities. Let’s step forward and make them kill us now.” But Estelle’s mother fiercely responded to her two daughters: No! Life is sacred. It is noble to fight to stay alive. Their mother’s indomitable will was a major factor in the trio’s survival in the face of brutal odds. But Estelle recognized other heroes in the ghetto as well, righteous individuals who stood out like beacons and kept their spirits alive. Their father was one, as were hungry teachers in dim, cold rooms who risked their lives to secretly teach imprisoned children. Estelle’s memoir, published sixty-four years after their liberation from the concentration camp, is a narrative of fear and hope and resiliency. While it is a harrowing tale of destruction and loss, it is also a story of the goodness that still exists in a dark world, of survival and renewal.