July 31, 1943. Esther dreamed of a simple wooden door. It was the door to her two-room home in Stoczek, just 70 kilometers from Warsaw. The number “4” written on it. Esther approached the door and with a crayon rewrote the 4. Upon waking, Esther found herself not at home in Stoczek but in a dirt hole in the Polish forest. Esther believed that “something” was going to happen in four days.
On the fourth day, in the light of the morning, a Gentile woman whom Esther did not know approached her, and assuming she was a Jew, asked, “Do you want to see some Jews from Treblinka?” Esther usually did everything in her power to avoid talking to Gentiles — too dangerous. But she said yes. She met two exhausted and anxious men. They told of their escape from the death camp Treblinka after a prisoner revolt.
“It is not safe here — out in the open,” Esther said to the men. She took them to Helena Stys, one of her two “angels” who helped her with food and allowed her to sleep in the barn on bitter winter nights. Seeing the fear in Helena’s eyes, Esther explained that these men escaped from Treblinka and needed to hide. They hid in her barn for three days, long enough to avoid the Nazi dragnet.
One of the two men came from a small town named Bagatelle, Esther said many years later. “That is my husband, Shmuel Goldberg.” Shmuel (Sam) stood just over five feet, not much taller than she, and his eyes shone a translucent blue.
By the time of the Treblinka prisoner revolt, so much had happened. Sam and Esther came from small Polish shtetlach, with large families, living traditional Jewish lives. By August of 1943 they were both sole survivors of their families. They unburdened themselves. Esther described how her town, Stoczek, was burned down and her family moved to Bialystok and then Slonim. How in 1941 the Nazis shot all the Jews of Slonim, including her family, into a pit. She described how, just one year before, she saw Jews from Stoczek taken to Treblinka, and how since that time she had hidden in the woods. Sam shared that he had been one of the first captured and taken to Treblinka in the summer of 1942. He helped build the camp and then miraculously held on for 13 months — one of 60 out of 870,000 to survive. Before his capture, Sam had already been thrown off his family farm, drafted into the Soviet army, captured by the Germans, thrown into a German POW camp, escaped from that POW camp, and, after the escape, traded clothes with a scarecrow to evade recapture.
It took another year of hiding in the Polish forest and living off their wits and the kindness of Gentiles before Sam and Esther were liberated by the Soviet army. They married and had a daughter, Fay. The hostility of post-war Poland led them to a displaced-persons camp. Four years later, in 1949, they immigrated to New York. They started with nothing, but made a life in Brooklyn, having a son — my husband Shlomo — in 1951 and then another daughter, Ray Molly, in 1953.
I joined the family in 1984, after Sam and Esther had retired to Miami. It is a privilege to be a part of this family that grew from two brave survivors to a family of 21. Sam and Esther are gone, but their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchild stand tall as their revenge against the Nazi murderers.