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The Passing of Esther Schiff

January 15, 2018

With a heavy heart, I'm sharing the news of the passing of Esther Schiff on 1/11/2018. She is the last of of the original three subjects for A BOOK by ME. Esther wanted to have her story preserved but couldn't imagine speaking in a classroom as nightmares of the horrors she experienced were common. She wanted to be interviewed by one child instead and when our youngest son heard, Michael volunteered. He told her story with great love and she often referred to his as her "genius". 

 

Esther’s amazing husband Saul was a WWII Veteran who saw the horrors of the camps. His story was written by Joe McGovern. It’s so important to document these stories for the next generation. Saul and Esther’s names will always be remembered as a blessing thanks to their young authors and artists. 

 

Deb Bowen
Creator, A BOOK by ME

 

 

 

Esther Stiller was born in 1925 in Kalisz, Poland. In 1940, at age fifteen, she received a new dress sent as a gift from relatives in America. It was special and not something that happened every day so she wanted to show her friend. An invitation to sleep over saved Esther's life. While she was away with a Christian friend, the Jewish families were herded together and locked up in a single large room–similar to a gym–of a multi-storied building. 
 
The next day, she slipped away to a nearby farm, where people gave her food. She said she had come from Warsaw, which by that time had been bombed by the Nazis. Giving them a typical gentile name, Edwarda Opatowska, she pretended to be Catholic. Something told her not to ask what happened to her family and the Jews of her city. 
 
She wandered around not knowing what to do—a child alone and afraid. At the railroad station, she saw a large group of Poles who were being taken to work in Germany. She knew they were not Jews, so when they boarded the train, she went with them. At Breslau they got off the train and were lined up to receive physical exams and shots, then given work assignments. When Esther's turn came, she gave the assumed name of Edwarda Opatowska and told them she lost her identification papers. This is how she begin to work as a slave laborer in Germany.
 
It saved her life but she never stopped wondering what happened to her mother, brother and sister. Being with Catholic farmers, she went to church with the rest of the workers. From the religion classes in school, she learned enough about liturgy and ritual to convince the Germans and her fellow Poles that she was Catholic. When the priest saw tears in her eyes, he thought it was because she was devout in her faith, but she was really feeling guilty about pretending to be something she wasn’t. 
 
An average day on the farm began at 4:30 a.m. and didn’t end until 10:00 p.m. Just as the Jews were forced to wear the Star of David sewn on their clothing, the Poles were required to wear a “P” on their clothes so the townsfolk would know who they were. Some local people considered themselves better and treated the Poles horribly. One day the priest saw what was happening and gave them a piece of his mind. Esther said it felt wonderful to have someone stand up for her. She survived the war and later found out she was an orphan. 
 
She eventually married Saul Schiff who was a Jewish American soldier during the war. They raised their family in the U.S.A. (the land of opportunity) where they lived in peace. Esther's family who died at the hands of the Nazis in Poland, Saul and son Stephen proceeded Esther in death. Our love and deepest sympathy to their amazing daughter Jacqueline Schiff and her two grandchildren.

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