Out of the fires of Lvov

Esther Barbsch was just a girl when she and her family were forced to flee into the interior of the Soviet Union and seek refuge from the German invasion.

June 1, 2019 23:18
3 minute read.

JEWISH GRAVES in Ukraine. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

The fires of war consumed the small town of Zlowtice, near the major Ukrainian city of Lvov – controlled by the Poles at the outbreak of the Second World War. Esther Barbsch was just a girl when she and her family were forced to flee into the interior of the Soviet Union and seek refuge from the German invasion.

She was born in 1930 and she has lived to marry and raise a family. She is blessed with three children and nine great-grandchildren. She was not raised in a religious home, but she makes sure to attend synagogue every Shabbat morning despite health issues and I often call her up to the Torah for an aliyah in my shul. She is one of a number of Holocaust survivors in my congregation whom I have profiled in a series of essays appearing here and in our congregation bulletin, The Shofar.

Even before the war, Esther’s family experienced the horrors of hatred of Jews in Ukraine. Her Jewish merchant grandfather, Moshe Schorr, was stabbed on the street by pogromists years before the war. Her grandmother Drayze served as a midwife and had 10 children of her own. Few of Drayze’s large family survived the Shoah.

Esther’s mother, Faigie, saved her daughter – as Zlowtice burned, the family had almost nothing, but the Russians did let them into the Soviet state before the borders closed. Esther lived for a time in Stalingrad but moved on before the brutal battle that decided the fate of the city and, likely, the war. Faigie toiled in the fields. She initially hid Esther from the Russians, but then had her assist in work that was onerous and killed many.

Esther’s brother, an excellent equestrian, was drafted by the Soviets early in the war. He died fighting as a soldier. With the German retreat and eventual liberation, Esther’s mother placed her daughter in an orphanage, Camp Rosenheim, for a short period. After the war, Faigie was able to take Esther back to Lvov. Few Jews survived and little was left of Jewish life in what had once been a vibrant city for Jews.

They traveled to Germany and lived life in displaced persons camp Hasenhecke, which was in Kassel. Both Esther’s widowed mother and Esther found husbands in the DP camp. Esther’s mother and her stepfather left for Israel. Esther met Chaim Meyer Feder, a survivor of the concentration camps of Buchenwald and Grossrosen. Esther and Chaim married in the DP camp in Germany in 1948.

They left Europe’s rubble for a life in America. They became US citizens in 1955. Both husband and wife learned some English in Germany, which helped them in their integration into American life.

Chaim and Esther settled down and rebuilt their lives. They lived in Newark, New Jersey. Chaim found a job as a factory worker. He was a fine breadwinner: the couple never went to philanthropic agencies for aid. In 1951, Esther gave birth to their first child. Esther writes: “In 1951 our first child was born. She was proof that Hitler had not succeeded, that Jewish life would continue.”

More children followed, all went to Hebrew school and graduated college. Synagogue life became important to the Feder family. Esther remembers fondly the bar mitzvah of a son. After her beloved Chaim died, Esther met Jack Lesell, also a Holocaust survivor. Jack was the Torah reader for 12 years in the shul before I arrived. He died five years ago. Esther endures and is a woman of sharp mind and a great inspiration to our people. It is a combination of a miracle and true grit and faith that Jews like Esther were able to build a life after enduring the hell of the Shoah.

The author is rabbi of Congregation Anshei Sholom in West Palm Beach, Florida.

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