|Holocaust survivor tells of survival, life after tragedy|
|Written by Logan Zimmerman, Daily Vidette Senior Staff|
|Tuesday, 10 April 2012 21:27|
In honor of the upcoming Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 18, the ISU Hillel-Jewish Student Union presented guest speaker and Holocaust survivor Aaron Elster at Milner Library on Tuesday night.
Elster recalled his experiences as a young boy during the Nazi occupation of Poland during World War II, including his time in a Jewish ghetto and two years spent hiding in an attic as an attempt at survival, with passages read from his book, “I Still See Her Haunting Eyes.”
“There was no accountability. Jews were not people anymore. They were referred to as sub-humans, and life began to change for us,” Elster said.
Elster eventually managed to escape the ghetto through instruction by his father and by running away and hiding in surrounding forests and farms, as well as living in the attic of a Polish family for two years.
After two years of living in an attic, Elster was finally able to leave after the war was over. However, he weighed only 52 pounds and could not walk due to his poor physical condition.
Elster continued to circulate through foster homes and orphanages after his escape until his relationships with local American soldiers allowed him to come to America to start a new life.
“Life began to change, but the nightmares and inferiority and thinking that you’ll never succeed in life, that you were really not worth success, was with me for many, many years,” Elster explained.
“Overcoming the hate was another story. I did well with my life, but enjoying success was very difficult because you didn’t deserve it and it was going to disappear. Success was not mine.”
Out of 6,000 Jews that lived in his small northeastern Polish village of Sokolow Podlaski, only 29 people survived the Holocaust, and Elster and his older sister were the only two children to survive.
After the tragic death of his father in the gas chambers of Treblinka, the murder of his pregnant mother, and the undetermined death of his youngest sister, Elster says that his Jewish faith is still strong.
“I was born Jewish, I’m going to die Jewish, I am a Jew and I believe in God, despite of what I thought when I was a kid,” Elster explained.
“As a kid your thinking is different. I was brought up in a very religious atmosphere and couldn’t understand how God would allow these things to happen, but then you learn,” he said.
Elster continued to rebuild his life in America, and he eventually served in the armed forces in Korea. He has been married to his wife Jackie for over 50 years.
He has also visited Poland and other areas of Europe since his childhood, but he finds it difficult to call it home anymore.
“You have to appreciate this country, and the only way you’ll appreciate it is if you leave this country and go somewhere,” he explained.
“You’ll kiss the ground when you come back,” he said.