Holocaust survivor shares story at Southfield library

By: Kayla Dimick | Southfield Sun | Published May 7, 2019

 Holocaust survivor and Southfield resident Esther Posner talks about her family and their experience during the war May 1 at the Southfield Public Library.

Holocaust survivor and Southfield resident Esther Posner talks about her family and their experience during the war May 1 at the Southfield Public Library.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes


SOUTHFIELD — When Esther Posner describes her childhood, she refers to it as the story of Anne Frank, but with a happy ending.

From the age of 3, Posner and her parents hid behind fake walls and in attics in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in fear of persecution from the Nazi regime that plagued Europe during World War II.

On May 1, Posner, who is now a Southfield resident, shared her story at the Southfield Public Library in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The Holocaust took place between 1941 and 1945 and was a genocide of 6 million Jews. During this time, Nazi Germany, along with other collaborators, systemically murdered around two-thirds of the Jewish population of Europe.

While Nazi persecution of Jews started as early as 1933, official policies were put in place in 1941. The Nazis also targeted other groups, such as Slavs, Europe’s Romani people, “political and religious dissenters,” gay men and the “incurably sick,” taking the death toll of Nazi persecution to around 15 million.

Posner was born in Amsterdam to a family that had fled from its small village in Germany after living there for 300 years.

Following the German invasion of Amsterdam in May 1940, half of Posner’s family was deported and murdered.

Posner said that caused a major upheaval in her lifestyle and everything she had been taught up to that point.

“The rabbis made the decision — and everyone knew — you could do what you needed to do to save your life,” Posner said. “Eat whatever food is available and do whatever it takes to get through this war. Everyone had the certainty that they were going to make it through the war and that they were going to come out alive.”

Posner recounted the many ways in which her family and town were targeted by the Nazis. At first, her father refused to go into hiding, but he eventually changed his mind after being kicked out of their apartment three times and after many members of their family were deported, Posner said.

A local policeman stepped up to find Posner’s family a hiding place in the home of another family, she said.

“Where this door ended, there was a wall. … They had a bookcase in front of it and a hole behind it, and that was our hiding place in the room where we stayed,” Posner said. “My father would time us, sometimes in the middle of the night, to see how long it would take us to get into that hiding place.”

Some of her family also hid in the attic, Posner said.

“In the attic there was a swing that hung from one of the beams, and my father would make it askew so that it was crooked, and he would take some of the games and leave them on the floor so that the pieces were all over the place, and he staged it to make it look like a place where the children played. But of course, they were never up there.”

During the war, Posner and her parents changed hiding places often until the Netherlands was liberated by the Allies in May 1945.

Although their home during the war was never consistent, one thing in their lives was: a tablecloth embroidery project.

“My mother had packed one or two changes of clothing for each of us when we escaped. … Where in that small suitcase did my mother have room to bring along an embroidery project?” Posner said. “And then the answer came to me. After having to leave all of our possessions behind, my mother had the faith that she would survive and have a family to take care of and a table that needed a cover.”

Recently, Posner returned to the Netherlands with her three sons and met the descendants of her rescuers.

Southfield City Councilman Michael Mandelbaum helped host the event at the library.

“Tonight starts Holocaust remembrance throughout the United States, and especially with all the rising anti-Semitic attacks and just hatred amongst everyone, I think it’s important to recognize that it could happen again,” Mandelbaum said. “As the Holocaust grows further and further away, the survivors, unfortunately, are passing on, so the fact that we were able to find a Southfield resident who is a survivor to tell her story is very helpful.”

Mandelbaum said this time of year is very personal for him.

“It’s also very meaningful to me, because my grandparents and great-grandparents went through it — survived. My grandfather actually told me that last week was the anniversary of when he was finally able to get on a boat to come to America,” he said. “So that’s another push for me to make sure people understand all the different stories that happened during the Holocaust — the good and the bad — so that we can learn from it and remember what happened so it doesn’t happen again.”