Wednesday 21 September 2016

Czech Immigrant Estelle Zeller

"And there were two thousand of us, all young women.  They used us to unload brick from ships.  We would make a human chain and pass the brick one to the other all day long until the tips of our fingers bled." (Estelle Zeller)

Estelle Zeller grew up in a Jewish family in Ushorod, Czechoslovakia.  Her father operated a bakery in town.  On the night of November 10, 1938, her father was searching for the midwife to tend to her mother who was in labour.  At the same time, his bakery was being vandalized, part of Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass (
Occupied by the Germans, all of the Jewish bakeries in Ushorod were either denied licences or denied their flour allocations.  Estelle's father was drafted into the military.

In 1943, with Jews being rounded up across Europe by the Nazis, Estelle's mother suggested she go into hiding with a Christian family.  However, Estelle watned to remain with her family.  Soon, all of the jews in Ushorod were rounded up and put into a ghetto.  Later, they were stuffed in cattle cars and taken to the infamous Auschwitz where Estelle was separated from her parents and siblings.  

While many of the Jews were sent directly to the gas chambers, Estelle was sent to Germany to work as a slave labourer.  "And there were two thousand of us, all young women.  They used us to unload brick from ships.  We would make a human chain and pass the brick one to the other all day long until the tips of our fingers bled."  While the days were draining, the nights were equally difficult:  bombs were flying overhead.  

Later, Estelle was one of 500 young women to be transported to Essen to work in a munitions factory.  They had a long walk to the factory.  In winter time, they used to wear wooden shoes and the snow would stick to the soles of their shoes.  The German soldiers would use their bayonets to scrape the snow off.  

Towards the end of the war, Estelle was transferred to another concentration camp, this time Bergen Belsen.  "People were dying like flies" as a result of malnutrition and disease.  On April 15, 1945, the guards suddently disappeared.  They were liberated.  

Sweden welcomed some of the Jewish refugees.  That is where Estelle ended up in the years after the war.  Estelle's father returned to his hometown only to find that his family was not there.  He escaped Czechoslovakia before the Communists had a chance to take over, and fled to Germany where he stayed in a displaced persons camp for three years, then joined Estelle in Sweden.

Estelle had the opportunity to immigrate to America in 1952.  She sailed across the Atlantic on the Gripsholm.  "It was New Years Eve.  I was wearing a beautiful dress.  There was a great party on the ship and I was dancing and having a great time.  Suddenly, I had terrible stomach pains and went back to my cabin.  I ha an attack of appendicitis."  Because medical bills were high in the United States, Estelle had the ship's doctor perform an appendectomy on board the Swedish ship.  

Estelle said that her greatest shock occurred once she reached Ellis Island.  "It was a scary experience, because when I arrived at Ellis Island, I saw the same guard stands with guards I remembered at Bergen Belsen  It brought back terrible memories and I really didn't know what the outcome of my stay would be.'

Estelle's father and stepmother followed her to America and the three of them rented an apartment in Brooklyn behind a butcher shop.  Her father was hired at Ebbinger's Bakery in Brooklyn and her stepmother as a seamstress.  Estelle met her husband that June and married in September.  The couple raised two daughters.  

After more than three decades, Estelle returned to her hometown in 1986 for a visit.  She met an old lady there who talked about remembering her father returning after the war.  Estelle, overcome with emotion, broke down in tears.  Upon returning to the United States, she had a nervous breakdown.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake, served at Ebbinger's Bakery, was famous courtesy

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