Estera Spiegel (Ester Gur-Arie) - the Survivor

Estera Spiegel was born in Chorzow on 30 December 1935. Her father, Abram Spiegel (b. 1908) was the owner of a thread milling plant in Chorzow. Her mother Lea (b. 1915, nee Pergericht) run a shop with accessories. Estera had a younger sister Cipora (b. 1937). At home, the family talked in two languages, German or Polish.

Abram was a high-ranking officer of the reserve of the Polish Army. After Germans entered Poland in 1939, he went in hiding to protect himself against the army of the occupier. Together with Estera, he went to his family in Wolbrom (near Kraków). Lea and Cipora remained in Chorzow. The plant and the shop of the Spiegels were soon confiscated; Lea was forced to remain under house arrest. After her release, Lea and Cipora joined Abram and Estera. They moved to Sosnowiec few months afterwards. Abram found a job in a garage.

In 1942, a ghetto was set up on the outskirts of Sosnowiec, in the district of Srodula. The Spiegels were forced to move there. Abram worked as a truck driver, transporting all the rubbish outside the ghetto. Lea was sent to work in the “Gorecki” factory, which was located on the so-called Aryan side.

Both girls, Estera and Cipora, spent most of the days on their own, which exposed them to many risks. They managed to avoid roundups that were aimed against children several times. In 1943, when the times became even more dangerous, their parents resolved to hide their daughters outside of the ghetto. They asked a Polish woman Agnieszka Kaniut for help.

Abram hid the girls in the bins and took them to the factory where Lea worked. Agnieszka Kaniut took them and brought them to her house. At first, children stayed in hiding in the coal shed in the basement.   

They were taken care of and fed. When their health condition got worse, they were moved to the house.

Kaniut dyed Ester’s black hair so that they looked “better”. However, the risk of denouncing was so high that Agnieszka Kaniut moved Estera to her brother’s, Augustyn Kansa. Augustyn lived together with his wife and daughter Maria on the outskirts of Chorzow, where he run a grocery store.

Estera received a very warm welcome and care. She was dubbed “Elzunia” and was introduced as an orphan to everyone It was primarily Maria who looked after the girl. Maria was engaged with a Wehrmacht German soldier named Kaluza. Polish-German marriages were fairly common in Slask (Silesia). The man was a frequent guest at home but he was not aware of the Jewish origins of the girl. Maria did not want to reveal it.

Shortly afterwards, the couple married and Kaluza moved into the house of the Kansas. Maria began to fear that the true identity of the girl would be revealed. She took Estera to a befriended farmer in the village of Sadow, introducing the girl as an orphan. The farmer needed a hand in his farm so he agreed to take the girl.

Maria would visit Esterka later on. She would dye her hair before going to a dentist’s or to a doctor. She also took her home for holidays. Maria was unaware of the girl’s suffering. The farmer was an alcoholic and beat his wife and Estera, when she tried to defend the former.

On  her next visits in 1944, Maria found Estera ill and in a terrible condition, infested with lice. So she took her back to her house. When Maria’s husband was not there, the girl stayed at the Kansas. Otherwise, the girl lived in the nearby houses of the relatives, who were aware of the Jewish origin of the girl. Her situation did not change until the entrance of the Soviets in the city in January 1945.

At that time, Estera’s sister, Cipora, was harboured by the well-to-do Volksdeutsch family in Cieszyn, where she had been sent by Agnieszka Kaniut. Agnieszka presented the girl as a Polish orphan. Cipora survived the war there.

During the liquidation of the Sosnów ghetto in 1943, Estera’s parents were shipped to two different labour camps in Germany. Lea came back and found both daughters. They moved back to their former flat, which they had managed to restore. After a few months of the search for her husband, Lea found out that Abram died of exhaustion several days before the camp was liberated by US soldiers in May 1945.

Very few Jews survived the war in Chorzow. Of the entire family of Abram, only his male niece, who had been sheltered by Abram’s driver, survived. No one from the family of his mother survived.

In the course of 1946, the survivors suffered regular attacks in Chorzow. Estera’s mother decided to leave Poland and go to the USA, where they could join their relatives. With the help of JOINT and Jewish Agency, Lea and her daughters let for Prague and then to Germany. However, they did not arrive in the USA. The Jewish Agency arranged British passports for the girls so that they could go to Palestine as part of Aliyat Hano’ar (Youth Aliyah). The certificates were issued on fake names. On 28 July 1947, both sisters arrived in Palestine, where they stayed at the boarding school in Petach Tikva. Estera later settled in the Javne kibbutz.  

Lea joined her daughters one year later and they all lived together in Jaffa. Estera had to find a job due to financial hardships. She attended an evening trade school. In 1955, she married David (Schwartzbarb) Gur-Arie, who was a Lodz Ghetto and camp survivor. He arrived in Palestine in 1945 and worked as a clerk. David died in 1987; Estera passed away in 2006.

Estera remained in contact with Maria Kałuża until the death of the latter in 2000, after which she remained in touch with Maria’s relatives. Estera helped Maria and Maria’s husband at the time of the Polish People’s Republic. Having learned that the couple was deemed German and then arrested, Estera made an official statement about Maria’s merits through diplomatic channels. After her intervention, the couple was freed.  

Estera worked until she retired in 2007. She has been fairly pro-active in the association of Silesian-born Holocaust survivors for many years. Estera has one daughter and one son, six grandchildren and two great-grandsons. Her sister Cipora Klang has two children and six grandchildren.

Estera and Cipora applied at the Yad Vashem Institute to confer the title of the Righteous among the Nations to Agnieszka Kaniut and Maria Kansa-Kałuża. The medals and certificates were presented to Maria’s daughter and Maria’s son. The awarding ceremony, which took place in the Warsaw Nożyk Synagogue on 31 August 2012, was attended by the survivors Estera Cipora and their families.

Written by Jadwiga Rytlowa and Janina Goldhar, on the basis of Estera Gur-Arie’s testimony given in Israel in April 2013.

English translation: Wanda Józwikowska