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Vilna Stories
The following story is taken from the site:
Samuel Esterowicz and Ida, the daughter of Gershon Gerstein of Vilna, are the parents of Pearl. Pearl's Story
My mother and her parents were first brought to the Vilna Ghetto by the Germans in 1941. They were walled into a few blocks of the city and for two years Pearl never saw the sun shine nor could she lay her eyes on one green leaf or blade of grass. She shared a one room flat with 26 other people and tried to avoid slow death by starvation or the diseases which so many succumbed to. My grandfather was assigned to a job in the HKP German vehicle repair shop and was thus temporarily protected from being killed along with his family during the two years they spent in the Vilna Ghetto. In 1943, when the Vilna ghetto was being liquidated (i.e. all the Jews were transported to the killing grounds of Ponari and executed) my mother and her parents were among the few lucky ones who were taken from the ghetto to the HKP slave labor camp to work maintaining German military vehicles and repairing articles of clothing. Their good fortune was, in large part due to the efforts of the German army officer in charge of the HKP repair shop, a man named Major Plagge. Major Plagge was unique among all the Germans whom my parents encountered during the war in that he not only did not want to kill Jews, he actually tried to save as many as he could from death. When he learned that all the Jews in the Vilna Ghetto were to be killed, Major Plagge protested vigorously and even went to Berlin to argue that if the S.S. killed his Jewish workers he would be unable to carry out his assigned duties of vehicle repair which were necessary for the war effort. He was thus able to allow several hundred men and their families to leave the Ghetto shortly before it was liquidated and go to a labor camp where they would continue to work. My mother tells me that Major Plagge did his best to keep the killers of the SS at bay and that they were treated much more leniently than slave laborers at most camps. However as the war went on, Major Plagge was unable to shield his workers from the murderous desires of the S.S. In the end all he could do was to try his best warn them of impending danger. In March of 1944 the S.S. began a "children's action" in which all the children in the camp were captured and taken to be killed. During the frantic panic of this "action' my mother discovered a hiding place in the sewer under the basement of the HKP building. She was able to hide from the Germans and save herself. She then showed the hiding place to her father, who with the help of other prisoners enlarged the hiding place and made it more secure from discovery. During the final days of the war as the Red Army drew near, Major Plagge assembled the HKP prisoners and made a speech. He told the prisoners that the war was going badly for the Germans and that the Wermacht would be relocating to the West. He warned them that when this retreat occurred the camp's command would be transferred to the S.S. The Jewish prisoners understood the meaning of this speech: that the end was near and that they were in danger. The prisoners immediately went into hiding and when the S.S. took over the camp they began to kill all the prisoners they could find. My mother's proudest achievement is that the hiding place which she discovered saved both her parents, her cousin and close to 100 other prisoners. After 3 days of hiding in a pitch black sewer they were liberated by Soviet troops in July of 1944.