Laurence Rees: In early 1940, Estera Frenkiel was a teenage Jewish girl living in Lodz in Poland. She and her family had already suffered persecution from the moment the Germans first arrived, back in September 1939. But now life for the Frenkiels - and all the other Jews of Lodz - was about to get even worse.
Words of Estera Frenkiel: In Lodz, it was in the Lodz newspaper that a ghetto for Jews was being set up and that the Jews must leave town and move into the ghetto, and the streets were listed according to the dates by which they had to leave their flats and move to the ghetto. When my mother entered the flat that had been allocated to her it was already occupied. She said, ‘What! People are here?’ ‘Yes,’ they said, ‘we received an allocation and are living here.’ And then my mother went out into the street, walked up and down, and talked to herself: ‘What shall I do now? Where shall I go with the children? There remains nothing else for us than to commit suicide.’ The people heard this, called her over and said: ‘Please, listen. The room and kitchen are enough for us.’ So then we moved in, unpacked and we had a room that measured twelve square metres. There, we were four people living in twelve square metres. We moved into the ghetto on the 17th March 1940. It was just as though a bomb had gone off over our heads. Life was such that one only thought about how one could survive the day.
Laurence Rees: Estera managed to get a job working for the Jewish ghetto administration – but she and her family still suffered from lack of food and medical care. Life in the ghetto was one long catalogue of deprivation. As for the Nazis who guarded the Lodz Jews, some of them seemed to take almost a murderous amusement in their job.
Words of Estera Frenkiel: Up to a certain time, the sentry-guards would shoot and kill Jews. Some of them used to call and say: ‘Come! Come! You’ll get something.’ If he went closer to the wire, then it was automatically said, ‘He wanted to leave the ghetto,’ and he was shot and killed. And, in return, the guard would get three days off duty. Yes. Then, another commander came. Gradually, the shootings stopped. Why? He no longer awarded three days holiday for the shooting.
Laurence Rees: From the beginning of 1942, Jews in the Lodz ghetto who could not work began to be selected for deportation – almost all of them were then taken by the Nazis to be murdered in gas vans at Chelmno. Then, one day in September 1942, the Nazis announced that the Lodz Jews must give up their own children for deportation.
Words of Estera Frenkiel: The deportation of 1942 was something dangerous. The children were taken away from their parents. It was a blow for the father, but for the mother it meant far, far more. Every mother went with her child and put it on the cart. Yes, the child screamed, the child cried, and she pressed it to her breast and calmed it down and then went away. Their screams reached the sky. Many mothers simply went with their children. Many parents who had the possibility, for the flats were very small, hid their children. And, after the transport had left, after some hours, when they returned to the room, they dragged the child out from the hiding place and found it had suffocated.
Laurence Rees: Estera managed to escape the deportation selections and was eventually sent to a concentration camp in Germany after the Nazis destroyed the Lodz ghetto. She recognises that she was lucky to survive the war. Especially given the utterly murderous nature of the Nazis’ attitude towards the Jews.
Words of Estera Frenkiel: We were used to anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism was also rife amongst the Poles, so that couldn’t take one by surprise. The Polish anti-Semitism was, perhaps, financial - it had more of a financial aspect. But the German anti-Semitism was: 'Why do you exist?' and 'You shouldn’t exist,' and 'You ought to disappear.'
Originally recorded in Polish, this transcript is taken from a detailed written translation.