About Samuel Esterowicz
Born: July 13, 1897 in
Died: January 23,
Samuel "Munia"(Moonya) Esterowicz was born in Wilno, into the moderately well-to-do family of the lumber merchant Leiba Esterowicz. As was typical in the Jewish business community, his father strived to follow ethical business practices-a characteristic that his son would try to emulate for the rest of his life. Munia' childhood was a happy one. Looking back, he could see that, in spite of the threat of the rare pogroms, for Jews, life in Czarist Russia had been immeasurably better than what it would be for them later in the Soviet Union. The severe limitations of the Jewish "quotas" and of being forced to live in the "pale of settlements" was well tolerated. He was well acquainted with discrimination against Jews. Once as a teenager while trying to enroll at the university, Munia got stuck overnight in St. Petersburg where, as a Jew, he had no right to stay prior to being a student.
As a student in "Peter", Munia got acquainted with the nobility of spirit of the Russian students. In 1917 he was an enthusiastic supporter of the democratic revolution and then was a helpless witness to the takeover of power by the bolsheviks where he suffered from great hunger and near starvation. Munia abhorred the communist's cruelty; later, as an economist, he understood that the communism's inhumanity was dictated by its leadership's desire to retain power in spite of the system's inefficiency. As we see now, communism can not stay in power without brutal oppression - Samuel Esterowicz had perceived this half a century before.
After the 1918 armistice the Esterowicz family returned to Wilno which was then changing hands between the Soviets, Lithuanians and the Poles. To complete his education, Munia went to Berlin and enrolled at the Business School there; he graduated in 1924. Life in Germany during the time of the Weimar Republic was peaceful and orderly. Munia credits his German education with teaching him to discipline his thought and introduce reason into his life; it also acquainted him closely with the West European cultural heritage, its music and painting.
Returning to Wilno after graduation, Munia found the city in economic decline; its industries had lost markets cut off by hostile frontiers, and its most vigorous element, the Jewish business community, was being strangled by the antiSemitic credit policy of the Polish government.
Almost ruined by the war and the business climate, Munia's loving father continued to support and help all his children. Munia and his brother David went to the forests of Lithuania to help their father in his lumber business. In the little village of Koltynyany Munia was struck by the beautiful, almost patriarchal relationship between the Jews and the Lithuanian peasants there. It was a horrible shock when not quite sixteen years later he learned that in June of 1941, without being ordered to by the Germans, those same peasants massacred all the Jews of Koltynyany, down to the smallest baby.
In 1926 Munia's father, Leiba Esterowicz, died of a heart attack at the age of sixty one. The death of his adored father shook Munia to his depths. He really missed then the support of the religious faith from which he had turned away in his youth. One year later Munia met Ida Gerstein; they got married in 1928, their only daughter, Perella was born in 1929.
It was very hard to make a living in Wilno, but after several difficult years Munia became a representative of Tungsram, a Hungarian electric bulb producer and soon acquired a new client. Elektryt's energetic Jewish owners were able to develop it from a modest repair shop into a large radio receiver manufacture - the biggest enterprise in Wilno. As Electryt's supplier, Munia's income rose dramatically. The example of his father's highly ethical business principles and his own kindness inspired Munia to be helpful to his other clients.
The Second World War found Samuel Esterowicz a successful businessman. After being first occupied by the Soviets, Wilno was handed over to Lithuania and the Wilno inhabitants could visit their neighbours for the first time. Samuel found the Lithuanian Jews much more prosperous than their Polish brethern, the government more benevolent. Life changed when the Soviets occuppied Lithuania in June of 1940. As a former businessman, Samuel was persecuted as a "Burzhuj", his business and bank accounts were nationalized, he was unable to get a job that might have protected him from deportation. Most of his apartment was taken by communist functionaries, he was on the brink of being deported when Nazi Germany attacked its former ally, Russia.
Wilno was occupied by the Germans after a couple of days. A few days later Samuel had a terrifying experience. A Lithuanian named Labanauskas who lived on the same landing probably was drunk and put on a light during blackout; when confronted by a passing patrol, he assured them that it was the Jew accross the way that was signaling to the Russians. Samuel was arrested - his life was saved when, miraculously, at the precinct, one of the Lithuanian patrolmen declared that the light was not in the Esterowicz window, but in that of Labanauskas.
The other life saving occurrence was the friendship of Boleslaw Poddany, a Polish owner of a car dealership and repairshop who was Samuel's customer and was impressed by Samuel's honest and helpful business practices. Under German occupation Poddany's repairshop was working for the German Army and could protect his employees. Poddany employed Samuel as stockroom manager, his certificate shielded Samuel from the "Khapuny" - the Lithuanian henchmen who snatched Jewish men and took them to Ponary to be shot - the husbands of his sisters Anya and Emma perished there.
After the Jews had been chased into the inhumanly crowded ghetto, the Germans wanted still more victims. Only those workers "indispensable to the war effort" would receive the yellow "permit to live" certificate for themselves and their wives and two small children. Samuel received this vital certificate from Poddany. His mother perished then. His sister Emma Eisurowicz had given her yellow "life permit" to her daughter Eva; thinking that the killings were taking place only in Lithuania, Samuel arranged with great difficulty to send his sisters Emma, Anya and niece Shela to Belorussia - the day after they arrived they were herded into the synagogue and burned. This was the most painful shock in Samuel's life.
Samuel's work in Poddany's repairshop, incorporated into "Army Vehicle Repair" H.K.P. saved him and his family from the liquidation of the Wilno ghetto in September of 1943. To protect his repair workers, a kind German Major named Plagge persuaded Berlin to let him keep them in a work camp - H.K.P. Even though it was subject to the S.S. and the killing of children, the camp enabled the Esterowicz family to survive until the liberation by the Red Army. They were saved from a final massecre during the hours before liberation by finding a hiding place (unfortunately Eva and her husband perished). After they escaped from camp a Lithuanian stranger offered them shelter during the German retreat.
In liberated Lithuanian S.S.R. Samuel Esterowicz worked in the Planning Ministry and had tragicomic problems with the Socialist Planning. Unwilling to live under communist rule, the Esterowicz family repatriated to Poland. Polish antiSemitism made them escape to Italy where Perella earned a doctor's degree in chemistry and Samuel worked for the American Joint as inspector of Refugee Camps, trying to protect the helpless refugees from thievery and exploitation.
The American Displaced Persons Bill enabled the Esterowicz family to move to New York where Samuel worked as an accountant. He had strong views about the inadequacies of the American educational system and the reason for the inability of the U.S. justice system to protect the innocent from the criminals.
Perella got married, had her first son in 1954 and moved to California in 1956, where she had a pair of twins, a girl and a boy. In 1974 she was finally able to persuade her parents to move to California. In 1975 Ida Esterowicz suffered a stroke and died six months later.
His daughter persuaded Samuel Esterowicz to record his immense store of memories in the form of an extensive memoir which he worked on during his later years. He died in 1985 at the age of 87.
-------------------- Ida Esterowicz was the wife of Samuel, and the mother of Perela (Pearl) Esterowicz.
Samuel was born on 13 June 1897 to an observant Jewish family in Vilnius.
He was a highly educated man of intellect with wide ranging interests, and was witness to some of the most cataclysmic events of the twentieth century. Within his lifetime, the city in which he was born and where he spent the first half-century of his life, as in turn Russian, German occcupied (again), Lithuanian, Polish, and finally Soviet (again).
Samuel began to write his memoirs in Russian in 1975. They were subsequently translated into English by his daughter and relate to the most traumatic period in Samuel's life - the Nazi occupation of Vilnius (June 1941-July 1944) and the annihilation of the city's Jewish population. Miraculously he, his wife Ida and their daughter Perela (Pearl) survived the catastrophe that destroyed 95% of the Jews of Vilnius.
Samuel died on 23 January 1985 in the United States of America to where he emigrated in 1951.