Holocaust survivor shares story with campus

Estelle Nadel


Estelle Nadel speaks to students about her experiences in 1940s Europe.

Photo by Shawn Havel

A Jewish holocaust survivor from Poland brought the events of the holocaust closer to Laramie County Community College on April 11 by sharing her stories with today's generations.

Estelle Nadel, who now lives in Westminster, Colo., said she believed something like the holocaust could happen anywhere because religious killings are still taking place in the world today.

"It's like I'm reliving the whole thing." Nadel said.

Nadel was witness to the holocaust where near six million Jews were murdered by Nazis and their collaborators in Europe, an event now known as one of the most heinous crimes ever committed against humanity.

Born in Poland to a farming family, Nadel managed to evade incarceration in labor camps during the early 1940s and eventually fled Europe; however, she recalled not everyone she loved shared the same fortune.

Nadel, a young girl at the time of the holocaust, said she came from a very religious family who believed God would provide for them.

However, she recalled her world falling apart as her family was forced into hiding, and her father and oldest sister, who worked at a refinery, were sent to camps where they were killed.

Nadel's mother, who was a baker, was well-liked in the area and took shelter in an attic of a friend named Pudlina. She said one of her brothers who looked as if he could pass as a gentile left the family and looked for work on a farm in another town.

While in hiding, her mother would sneak away in the night to find food for the family but one night did not come back. Nadel later learned she had been reported by three young men, captured and shot.

Recalling her mother's death, Nadel said, "It was like my whole world was gone."

The children stayed in the attic and could barely move. Their only glimpse to the outside world was through peepholes, and it was through them they saw a group of gestapo approaching on motorcycles.

Life as hostage, imprisoned as child

Neighbors had reported Jews were hiding in Pudlina's attic, and when the gestapo officers arrived, they beat Nadel's brother, and both were taken to prison. Nadel was 7, and her brother was 15.

When she arrived at the prison, the Polish head of the prison requested that they be put into a specific basement jail. Nadel's brother noticed the two probably could fit through the bars of the prison, so they moved the bed near the window, and her brother noted the rotation of the guards who patrolled the street.

The two planned to escape through the bars and jump a fence to a field where they would rendez vous and escape to their aunt's location. In his first attempt to get through the window's bars he was stuck; however, he managed to escape on the second attempt.

Nadel escaped later, but when she crossed the fence, her brother was nowhere to be found. Looking back, Nadel said she believed the Polish head of the prison put the two in the cell intentionally, hoping they would escape.

After escaping, Nadel was found crying by a woman who lived nearby and discovered the woman who took her in was married to one of the prison workers. The woman decided to help Nadel by taking her to bathhouses where she could remember the route to her aunt.

Nadel later found her brother had fled after crossing the fence, but she said she could not blame him.

She said she then hid with her aunt and uncle for the next two years until her aunt died and the Russian army began liberating the area.

Family reunites, travels to America

Her older brother who had left to find work on a farm had now returned. However, a Polish resistance group continued to threaten the Jewish population, so the group left Poland on a train to Czechoslovakia and then to Hungary. Her uncle's family escaped to Australia because they had received papers from a relative. Nadel and her brothers found an opportunity to leave Europe when they were in Austria, and Nadel was offered to be taken to America by a female American soldier.

However, another setback occurred when a list of people who could immigrate to America listed her brothers' names, but not Nadel's. During a health check, it appeared Nadel had a lung illness on an X-ray, so her oldest brother left on the first ship and her younger brother again decided to stay with Nadel until she could be rechecked and put on another ship.

Nadel said she had actually been healthy, but a desperate individual had switched X-rays with hers to escape. Nadel eventually was cleared to leave and finally made it in to America where her oldest brother had found work in New Jersey, and her other brother eventually did as well. Nadel was then 12 and lived in a hotel while her brothers worked.

She said that in April 1947 she learned English by going to the cinema until she could be placed in school. Nadel then was placed into a foster family where she lived in Long Island.

"I felt I was safe in the United States," Nadel said. Nadel adapted to American life well but said she didn't want to be identified as a survivor. She wanted to be a normal person.

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