Before Sept. 1, 1939, Esther Lederman was a happy teenager attending a private Jewish school in Poland — she could never have guessed that her world was about to fall apart.
On Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in the Sonja Haynes Stone Center, the community will have a chance to listen to Lederman, one of a dwindling number of Holocaust survivors, tell her story.
Sophomore Samantha Asofsky, with the help of UNC’s Office of Scholarships and Student Aid, created the event because she wants UNC students to understand the Holocaust is not just an issue for Jewish people.
“She revealed to me how much the story of the Holocaust has changed throughout the generations,” Asofsky said.
Lederman and her family fled to the Polish town of Chmielnik in December 1939.
Lederman said she knocked on a door and told the family she was a governess from a larger city. They took her in, and she remained in hiding for nearly two years in a 10-by-10-foot room.
On Aug. 3, 1943, Lederman and the other Jewish people in hiding with her were liberated by Soviet soldiers, which she said was incomparably exhilarating.
Lederman and her husband Ezjel were able to move to Brooklyn, N.Y., with their 11-month-old son and were dismayed to discover anti-Semitism was present in the United States.
“My husband could not get an internship at Columbia or Presbyterian Hospital,” she said.
Eventually, her husband became a successful doctor, and Lederman accompanied him on many of his business trips to places like Greece, Estonia and Morocco.
Though Lederman has experienced a great deal of discrimination, she said she learned a valuable lesson while working in her husband’s office with blood chemistry.
“We had black people, Chinese people, polka-dotted people,” she said. “Everyone’s blood is red, so what’s the big fuss?”
Lederman said she came to Chapel Hill because her daughter lives here, and she has stayed busy — she and her late husband published a book in 2005 titled “Outlasting Hitler’s Armies” about their experiences during the Holocaust, which she said she will speak about during Wednesday’s event.
Sharon Halperin, co-director of the Chapel Hill-Durham Holocaust Speakers Bureau, said she does not think people are properly educated about the Holocaust.
“If college students aren’t getting the information before college, then they aren’t getting it while there,” Halperin said.
Halperin is the daughter of two Holocaust survivors and said she is familiar with the experiences of many of the speakers.
“They are living testimonies and living pieces of history,” she said. “Their willingness to educate from the ground up is just heartwarming.”
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