Helena Esterkesová

* 1926  

  • “My husband managed to flee from the peat fields, and when he heard about the atrocities in the Ostrožec ghetto he asked Vláďa Říva to lend him his hay-wagon and a pair of horses. He wanted to save as many people as he could. Láďa Říva lent him the hay-wagon and the horses, and my husband carried out his plan. They hung onto the wagon, and he took as many as he could on board. They eventually started to speak a Jewish language, 'Save us, save us.' He was also of Jewish origin. When the Ukrainians heard them speaking a Jewish dialect they slammed his head with a rifle butt and cracked the back of his skull. He fell to the ground unconscious. It was a wonder he managed to get away. I have no idea how he did it.”

  • “I wore walking shoes and stockings. The path leading from the haystack to the forest was snowbound and the snow was knee high. I lost my shoes in the snow instantly, and since the temperature was freezing my stockings wrinkled up my legs. So, in effect, I was walking in the snow barefoot in my ragged coat. I walked for quite some time into the forest until I came to a ditch. I put the coat on the snow and sat down on it, waiting to freeze to death. I didn't want to live any longer. I heard lumberjacks chopping down trees. I thought to myself that maybe they were good people and if they came closer they could help me. But they didn't find me. I waited until dusk and then I walked on until I approached a haystack. I crawled inside and covered myself with hay and snow. It was terribly cold. It was a winter night on December 6. There was a lot of snow and sharp wind. Suddenly, I heard some noises. It was Ukrainians in pursuit of a runaway pig. They were chasing the pig around the haystack and didn't notice that there was a hole in the stack. I stayed in the haystack for the next two days.”

  • “My mom walked some seven or eight kilometers to Ostrožec to beg that German - Vogel - to spare our lives. He was in charge of the administration of the whole district of Ostrožec (Fritz Vogel, a so-called 'Kreislandwird' in Ostrožec, note by the author). After all, he wasn't that bad. He feared for his life. He was afraid that he would be executed if he didn't act on his orders. Even so, he hesitated for quite a long time after we had been given away before he actually sent someone for us. His orders were clear – to eliminate the Jews that were reported in Ledochovka. My mom tried to persuade him to let us go. She came to him, greeted him, introduced herself and told him she thought it to be inconceivable that our whole family would be murdered. She kept talking about our family. She told him that we have a large estate that all of us had cultivated for many years and that we'd give him all of our lands and belongings, if he let us go. She told him we're ready to give him everything we have if only he spares our lives. She really made an impression with him – she told me he was very touched by what she told him, that he even turned his head away and sobbed. Then he turned to her and screamed, 'Frau (Madam)! I can't help you! It's not my fault!' So my mom left without success. But what could he do if he had a direct order from Hitler saying he had to exterminate Jews?! It was an order, and there was no discussion about it. There had to be further exterminations.”

  • “I was recovering from a typhus infection in a hospital in Rovno. There was a military hospital and a civilian hospital located right next to each other. The Germans were bombing the military hospital, but they accidentally hit the civilian hospital where I was lying. The pressure from the explosion blew out the window and the door. I was the only one who was still in that room because all the others had fled the hospital building and hid somewhere in the fields. But I was too weak to walk, so I stayed behind. Such an infection makes you weak, it soaks up all the energy from your body. Your bones feel like they’re made of rubber and you're unable to even hold a spoon in your hand. You can't coordinate your body. I couldn't even sit upright. The nurse had to support me while I was sitting and eating. I was eighteen years old and unable to feed myself. I rolled myself over the edge of the bed and fell on the ground. I then painstakingly crawled underneath the bed because I thought that the iron bed would maybe protect me from shrapnel. So I waited underneath the bed. Then the nurse came into the room – she was Polish. It was dark in the room so she asked if there was anybody there. I squeaked from underneath the bed like a mouse. Luckily, she noticed me and lifted me up. I must have weighed extremely little because she pulled me up like a feather. I implored her to go away and leave me there because there were bombs exploding everywhere. She said, 'No, your life is as valuable as mine.'”

  • “When the Poles were running Luck, it was quite an anti-Semitic place to live in. There were two schools exclusively for Jewish children in the city out of some twelve altogether. Luck had some fifty, sixty thousand inhabitants, of which some sixty percent were Jewish. The Jews were mostly running shops. You had everything you wanted in Luck. The best shops in Luck were located in the Jagello avenue. You had all kinds of shops there, for instance an ice-cream shop selling American ice-cream. We called it the 'Amerikánka'. When we were school kids, we loved to go there. The boys would always get us girls an ice-cream to boast a bit. The ice cream was five Groschen. That was about the same as you'd have to pay for an egg, and if you stayed there a little longer you could have the tastiest ice cream for ten Groschen. So this shop specialized in ice cream, and Pluto was known for chocolate. What they had to offer was a special sort of chocolate that couldn’t be found anywhere else. They had goods imported from all over the world. Some items came from France and the other stuff was from England. The Jews were very skillful in shipping in goods from all imaginable corners of the world. Luck was very well supplied. So when the Soviets came to Luck there was plenty they could nationalize, plenty they could steal. The Jewish shopkeepers and entrepreneurs tried to hide their goods from the Soviet soldiers and officials. Some of them brought many carts of their merchandise and pleaded for us to hide it away at our place in Ledochovka. It was mostly footwear and clothing. Eventually, after it became clear that we'd be sent to the ghetto, my brother managed to bring the stuff back to the merchants in Luck. Well, not that it would help them – they were shot anyway. The Jews from Luck were shot gradually, in three subsequent waves. They couldn't technically execute all Jews from Luck at the same time. Therefore, they had to divide the executions into three rounds. I later learned that my sister-in-law, being led to the execution place, grabbed her kids and tried to run away screaming, 'I don't want to see how they're shooting my kids with machine guns!' They shot them in the back in cold blood.”

  • “When the killings of the Jews started in Ostrožec, my mom and dad fled from Ostrožec and took little Danuška, who was still a baby, with them. They even managed to take along some clothes for the little girl. They walked to Peremilovka. They told us, 'Kids, things are getting really bad.' My brother was there. My sister was killed in Dubno. They dragged her out of the peat. They were standing in the peat, waste-high and they were digging it. It was forced labor for youngsters. They worked there all day long and slept in a barn. They had no food, nothing. They were guarded by armed Ukrainian guards. My dad walked dozens of kilometers to see my sister. He then told us that she cared for him lovingly. She wrapped him up in a sheet to keep him warm during the night in the barn. She even brought him some fatty potatoes. He had no idea where she got the potatoes from, possibly from the Ukrainians. He spent several days with her there. He wanted to spend some time with her and these moments turned out to be the last ones. Then he returned and we never saw her again.”

  • “The Soviet public notices were to be found everywhere. They were intended for the refugees from the former Polish territories annexed by the Germans. After the German occupation of Poland, refugees from Krakow and Warsaw flooded the place. The notice said that whoever wants to return to German-occupied Poland, is supposed to sign up at the NKVD. Almost all the refugees signed up. They wanted to go back home even though it was very risky to do so – nobody knew what would happen to them back home. They'd rather die at home in their house than starve to death here. So virtually all of them signed up at the NKVD. There were 63 of us in the classroom, three to four sitting at each desk. The room was packed with school kids - there were far too many. One day, I entered the classroom and found out that half of my classmates had disappeared. I wondered what had happened and inquired about their fate. Someone told me they had been loaded on trucks and taken to the railway station. They came for them because they knew their addresses from when they reported them when they signed up at the NKVD. When they asked where they were taking them, the soldiers replied, 'We're taking you home, you wanted to go home, right?' In reality, they were deported to Siberia in cattle cars, never to come back again. Whole families, kids, parents, grandparents. A month or two later, we received an obscure post card saying: 'Please send us something to eat, we're starving to death here. We'll welcome anything, even dried out bread.' This episode really made me feel desperate about our future. I feared the horrors awaiting us, and I felt hatred towards the teachers, the whole school, and everything. It was a terrible time.”

  • “My brother and his wife were with the masons. It was July and rumors were spreading of the approaching Soviet armies. They went for a walk in the grain fields. The Germans were driving around in their trucks and they noticed some movement in the grain field. They thought it was partisans hiding in the field. They caught my brother and his wife and took them to Luck to be executed. On the way to Luck, my brother and his wife argued with the Germans and tried to persuade them to let them go. They said they were not partisans and not Jews. So the Germans took them to Ledochovka where they put them on the main square and let the locals assemble. They asked the locals if my brother and his wife were Jews. The crowd remained silent except for one guy who confirmed that they are Jews. It was a shoemaker from Ledochovka who used to repair our shoes. He was the only one, all the others kept quiet. So they loaded them back on the truck and took them to a place on the outskirts of Luck where they had to dig their own graves. Then they shot them.”

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    Nový Jičín, 12.06.2010

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My dad got familiarized with the Czechs but no one helped him

Helena Esterkesová, sister Pavla_1939 Ledochovka
Helena Esterkesová, sister Pavla_1939 Ledochovka
photo: archiv pamětníka

Helena Esterkesová, née Rivcová, was born in 1926 in Ledochovka, Volhynia to a Jewish family. After Volhynia was occupied by Soviet forces in 1939, the family was earmarked for transportation to Siberia. However, the Soviet’s plan wasn’t carried out because it was prevented by the advent of the Germans. The Germans deprived the family of all its property and sent them to the Ostrožec ghetto. Mrs. Esterkesová was forced to work as a slave laborer in the garden of Kreislanwirt Fritz Vogel. Later, she also worked in nearby Peremilovka. In Peremilovka, she later reunited with her parents who had escaped Nazi massacres of Jews in the ghetto. The family went on the run and tried to hide in their native village - Ledochovka. However, most of their village neighbors refused to help them and turned down their pleas to grant them shelter. Having nowhere to hide, her parents were eventually caught and shot by the Nazis. Even her sister Pavla and her brother Michal were murdered by the Nazi henchmen. Mrs. Esterkesová was able to get away from the killings, and at the age of fifteen she was hiding, poorly dressed, in the frozen winter forests. After great suffering, she ended up in a Polish family - the Lipskis. They were the only ones to help her. She was hiding at their place for five months in a small room underneath the hay stacks. Afterwards, she changed locations and was hiding at some of the relatives of the Lipski family. Finally, she ended up with Bišek - a Pole living in Julán. At Bišek’s place, she started to cooperate with the Polish partisans as a liaison. At the end of the war, she saw the bombing of Luck and Rovno and was nearly hit by a shell herself. She got infected with typhus and had to recover in a hospital. She got married to Adam Esterkesi in September 1945. Adam lost his whole family in the war, like Mrs. Esterkesová. She then re-emigrated to Czechoslovakia and currently lives in Nový Jičín.