Estelle Laughlin discusses the Warsaw ghetto uprising. German forces intended to liquidate the ghetto on April 19, 1943, but were stunned when faced with an armed uprising from Jewish fighters. Estelle and her family hid in an underground bunker during the uprising but were eventually captured and deported.
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“I tried to turn my face away not to see it. I couldn’t understand what death meant. All I hoped for is that I meet it with my mother, and sister, and my father.”
Over sixty years after the Holocaust, hatred, antisemitism, and genocide still threaten our world. The life stories of Holocaust survivors transcend the decades and remind us of the constant need to be vigilant citizens and to stop injustice, prejudice, and hatred wherever and whenever they occur.
This podcast series presents excerpts of interviews with Holocaust survivors from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s public program, First PersonConversations with Holocaust Survivors
In today’s episode, Estelle Laughlin talks with host Bill Benson about the Warsaw ghetto uprising. German forces intended to liquidate the ghetto on April 19, 1943, but were stunned when faced with an armed uprising from Jewish fighters. Estelle and her family were hidden in an underground bunker during the uprising, but were eventually captured and deported.
The Jewish people began to organize themselves into an armed resistance. They started to build bunkers. As I pointed out the buildings were practically vacant, so whoever, most of the people moved to the ground floor. The resistance fighters started to build bunkers in the basements. My father was a member of the underground and we had a bunker too.
The floor in our powder room, the whole floor lifted, commode and all, and then you’d step down in, down a flimsy little ladder and you were out of sight. Well, the resistance fighters built a network of bunkers and they dug tunnels so that they can move from bunker to bunker and tunnels underneath the wall to get to the other side, to the Christian side, and hopefully obtain ammunition and arms from the Christian underground.
The real fighting began when the armored cars, tanks, brigades of soldiers, bomber planes, trucks with loudspeakers, announcing, “You better all report or else we’ll kill you.” And of course we did not obey, we bolted into our bunker. And you can imagine when we pulled the trap door closed and we stepped into this damp darkness, the ceiling closed in on us. The walls pressed me and the few people who were with me in the bunker were my whole nation. The flickering of the carbide light was the substitute for the sun. The ticking of the clock was our only connection with the universe outside, that’s how we knew when morning was rising, when the sun was setting. How abandoned I felt. How I craved for the open horizons, for the crispness, blue crispness of day.
And while we were in this bunker, the freedom fighters confronted a twentieth century army. Just a small group of poorly clad, poorly fed, poorly armed freedom fighters climbing up on rooftops, meeting the tanks on street corners, standing in front of open windows and lobbing Molotov cocktails and whatever explosives they could find. They fought so bravely, they fought for four weeks, even after the ghetto was declared cleansed of Jews the Jewish fighters were still fighting. It is really noteworthy that the Jewish resistance fighters in the Warsaw ghetto fought longer than it took for France or for Poland to capitulate. I think that is remarkable.
Well, “Boom!” there was this horrendous explosion. I thought that my head was blown off. Dust was flying, splinters were flying around me. In one instant our hiding place was invaded by a bunch of barbarians and they chased us out of the bunker. At that point there was not even a corner that we could hide in. We could not even, we didn’t even have the freedom to fall to our knees and form fists and smash the earth. We were marched through the streets. The ground beneath us trembled. The air thundered with detonations. The buildings crumbled to our feet. The flames, the flames were enormous, enormous tongues of flames licked the sky and painted it in otherworldly colors of iridescence. The smoke, towers of smoke. People lying in congealed blood. I tried to turn my face away not to see it. I couldn’t understand what death meant. All I hoped for is that I meet it with my mother, and sister, and my father. But I couldn’t turn my face away from the people who I cannot forget, and they marched us onto Umschlagplatz onto freight trains, crowded like sardines.
You have been listening to First PersonConversations with Holocaust Survivors, a podcast series of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Every Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. from March through August, Holocaust survivors share their stories during First Person programs held at the Museum in Washington, D.C. We would appreciate your feedback on this series. Please visit our Web site, www.ushmm.org/firstperson, and follow the prompts to the First Person podcast survey to let us know what you think.
At our website you can also learn more about the Museum’s survivors, listen to the complete recordings of their conversations, and listen to Museum podcasts Voices on Antisemitism and Voices on Genocide Prevention.