Esther’s Story

Esther was born on December 8, 1928 in Drujsk, located in the northeast of Poland. Drujsk was a small town, with a single main street, and houses on either side. The town had 250 Jewish families, and a few non-Jewish neighbors who lived on the outskirts. Esther’s home was along the main street, in a wooden house that was lit with a kerosene lamp. Esther lived there with her parents, her older brother Yisrael, and her grandmother and grandfather, who were her mother’s parents. Yiddish was the spoken language in the Shlapin household.

Esther’s father, Leib Shlapin, was a locksmith and blacksmith. His workshop was next to their house. The property also had a small dairy farm with a few cows. There was also a little garden behind the house with cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, and carrots. Esther’s grandmother took care of the garden. Esther’s mother, Sarah, and the children helped with the harvest.

A river ran through the Shlapin property. Esther and her girlfriends spent many hours sitting along the banks, dangling their feet in the water, talking, and picking berries off the bushes. If not at the riverbank, Esther and her friends would play at her house.

The Shlapins had a traditional Jewish household. Preparing for Shabbat began early Friday morning, when Esther’s mother would cook and clean the house. The children would start getting ready in the afternoon, taking baths and getting dressed. When everyone was ready, Mrs. Shlapin would light the Shabbat candles and Esther’s father would go to the synagogue to pray. Her grandparents often invited the less fortunate to join them for Shabbat dinner, teaching their grandchildren the value of helping others.

Jakub, Sarah, Maniek, Emilia, and Henryk Wiener on a street in Chorzow, Poland, 1934.
Jakub, Sarah, Maniek, Emilia, and Henryk Wiener on a street in Chorzow, Poland, 1934.

In 1934, when Esther was six years old, her parents, who were Zionists, decided to leave Poland and immigrate with their children to the ancient homeland of the Jewish people, which was then under the British rule of the Mandate for Palestine . For Esther, the most difficult thing was saying goodbye to her grandparents, whom she loved and respected. The preparations for the journey were complicated. First, they had to move to the city of Warsaw in order to get all the necessary paperwork. During this period, Esther’s little sister, Miriam, was born.

By 1935, all the papers were ready for the Shlapin family to emigrate, but Esther’s mother wanted to say goodbye to her parents, so they went back to Drujsk instead of getting on a ship out of Poland. Meanwhile, that same month, further limits were placed on immigration, and the family’s papers were suddenly cancelled.

“We were supposed to pack our luggage and leave.”
—Esther Shlapin

The Shlapins continued to live in Warsaw with the hopes that things would soon change and they would be allowed to depart. Meanwhile, Esther and her brother started school.