Esther to Stella
by Dominique M.
St. Ignatius College Preparatory
“Esther!” her mom called out down their street. Esther’s long, thick black hair waved in the wind as she glided on her gold scooter towards her home for supper. “Bye Lulu! See you tomorrow at the movies!” she exclaimed before zooming away. Lulu is two years older then Esther, but they spent so much time together that people began to believe they were sisters. Like many young children, they enjoyed going outside and doing fun activities together. Some of Esther’s fondest childhood memories before the Holocaust involved: watching the movies every Thursday and Saturday with Lulu, eating her favorite vanilla ice cream, and playing on the streets with the other neighborhood children. She loved sweets but was still a very picky child and difficult to feed at times.
Back at home her mom prepared gefillte fish for the Jewish tradition of Shabbat, but because Esther was very petite and thin, her mom made an exception. She decided to prepare Esther Belgium style calves’ liver and horsemeat to help her gain weight and become stronger. Esther and her father both had a great sense of humor while her mom was more reserved and quiet. Her father used to pick her up for a piggyback ride every morning. These moments were a favorite part of her day—besides going to school and hanging out with Lulu of course.
Unfortunately, Esther’s childhood was drastically changed and altered forever because of the start of the Holocaust in Belgium during the 1940s. The Nazis dehumanized Jews by forcing them to give back all of their radios during years of 1940-1941. Jews were required by law to put Jewish Enterprise on the window of their businesses. Her father had to put the words in the front of his store called Chappelerie, a hat store. They began to have to wear the Star of David on their coats and were not even allowed to go out to the streets after 8pm! The Nazis required all Jews to bring five pounds of lead or copper, whether that meant they had to buy it or give away cherished family heirlooms, to help the Nazis war effort. In 1941, they began to stamp the papieren of Jews so the government could easily decipher who they were with a simple glance at their paperwork. However, Esther never got a stamp because she was too young.
They told Esther and her other Jewish friends that they were not allowed to go to school anymore. Esther was devastated as this was one of her favorite parts of the day. The worst was yet to come. Her parents did not realize how severe and dangerous the issue was until they saw that the Nazis had begun to have raffles to take Jews away. Behind her back in 1942, her parents had been trying to arrange for a family to take care of Esther. She remembers hearing about someone being deported daily. Her father originally tried to get her to be taken in by a monastery, but they told him that it would be too risky and cause people to look at them with suspension. She was rejected.
Hope was not lost yet as there were still three people willing to take Esther in as their own child. One was a family who had recently lost their real daughter to a bombing. Esther’s father felt uneasy about leaving his daughter with a family that might try to force her to take their daughter’s role in the family. The next person was Madame Flore, a woman who owned a café that Esther’s parents visited often. They loved Esther, but her father again rejected the offer because he did not want her to be in a place where people could easily spot her. They were almost out of hope when Esther’s Dad went to the Barbershop and complained one last time about their family’s dilemma. This time it was a hit. The Barber recommended Esther’s future step-dad and he accepted it.
The man came to pick up Esther that same night. Esther had no clue what was going on, but obeyed her parents. Her parents reassured her, “We will bring your stuff later, Esther.” Her father came the next day to drop off a bag and said some jokes to ease any of Esther’s suspicions. Her mom stopped by later that day and asked Esther if she wanted some candy. Esther said, “No thank you” although she loved sweets; She could tell that something was upsetting her mom. Her mom left Esther with her usual kiss goodbye. Esther ran to the porch to see her mom out and was waiting for her mom to turn around and look back at her. She never did.
August 14, 1942 was the last day Esther saw her parents, but she still believed that they would one day return for her since they had only been “recruited for work”. Sadly, the inevitable disaster of the Auschwitz concentration camp was their fate. Esther’s neighbors told her stepparents to not let Esther come to visit her parents since the Germans were there. The Nazi Soldiers asked for her, but her mom had lied and said she was in an asylum. Luckily, they did not check to see if she was actually there.
Esther was hidden two days before her parents were taken away on the Saturday of August 15, 1942. The girlfriend of her 25 year-old brother had already taken actions to hide him. Twelve-year-old Esther was left alone with two strangers in a new home, but in the same neighborhood, Schaerbeek of Belgium. She soon learned that she would not be allowed to have as much freedom as before. As soon as she realized that her mom and dad would not be around for a while, she began to binge eat in an attempt to relinquish her pain.
Her stepparents took Stella along to their friends’ house to celebrate the Catholic Feast Day, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Stella was sobbing the whole train ride, much to her stepparent’s dismay. Any signs of distress likes tears were considered risky because they were an obvious indication that something was wrong. But Stella could not control them. Her parents had just been snatched away from her.
When they arrived, their friends were shocked to see that they had a child with them. The friends had a son two years older than Stella named Willy. He asked his parents if Stella and him could go to the fair together. Stella said they “had a ball.” They ate caramel apples, went on lots of fun rides, and listened to beautiful music. For a short moment, Stella had forgotten her pain and struggles. It was not until after her stepparents and her went back on the train home that she remembered what had happened to her parents that morning. Stella still feels guilty for neglecting to think about her parents during that time. Her “only excuse was that (she) was a young kid.”
The war stole Esther’s identity as a Jewish girl. She lost contact with her previous Jewish life when they forcefully took away her mom and dad. Because her Jewish relatives were in Poland, she was never able to grow close to the Jewish culture. Her uncle was actually supposed to visit them before the war, but the beginning of war changed all of that. She lost a huge chunk of her childhood because she was no longer allowed to play outside, have friends her own age, or be with her parents. The longing for her parents was a daily occurrence.
Esther Goldberg was only 12 years old when she was forced to hide her Jewish identity under the fake name of Stella Vanderbeeken during the Holocaust. Stella is one of many children whose childhoods were taken away because of the harsh and cruel treatment of Hitler’s rule over Germany. Historians today describe Jews with similar experiences as Stella the “hidden children”.
The lucky ones had foster parents that were kind and treated loved them like their own children and were able to live in society like a normal child with their false papers. Others were forced to stay in an attic or cellar with the constant fear of being caught. Esther was luckier then most with the selection of her foster family.
During the beginning of her stay with the Vanderbeeken, she found herself alone for the majority of the day in their heater-less home. Her step- father worked as a mailman and her step-mom worked at an Insurance company, leaving Stella to fend for herself during their work hours. The only activities she could find to entertain herself were to peel potatoes and play with her little fox-like dog, Follette. In the same week that her parents were taken away, her step mom Germaine, whom Stella called Marraine, said she could call her mom. Stella began to cry and said no because she still believed that she only had one mother-her true biological mother.
Her step dad’s name was Theophil, meaning a friend of God, but she just called him Parrain. He liked to joke around and told Marraine to leave Stella alone when he could. It was tradition on Friday nights for Marraine to not allow Stella to go to bed early until they finished cleaning the house. Although her step mom was very strict, she became easier to deal with over time. Stella always felt a little displaced in the home compared to her real family. She felt obligated to always say thank you to them, while she did not feel that need for her parents. Her brother would sometimes visit her during the war late at night when it was dark and bring gifts like candy and new gloves to keep her warm.
Although Stella was lucky enough to find a kind family to take her in, some people still threatened to reveal her hiding place. One lady in a bakery exclaimed to friends of Stella’s stepparents that she would tell the authorities about Stella. The owner of the bakery rang their doorbell that same night to tell Esther’s stepparents about the woman planning to tell the Germans that Stella was a Jew. They did not want to risk her safety and decided to send her to live in Flanders  for one month until the problem seemed distant. When she finally came back, she started working with her step mom at age 14 at an insurance company. She was an office helper and learned to type there. She was elated to not have to stay home alone anymore. She was not paid at all for her services during the war, but the work place did keep her warm with their heater. But trouble was still ahead.
One day, as Stella and her stepparents were eating dinner, the doorbell rang. Stella looked inside the keyhole and became stiff cold. The young man who looked about 25-26 was standing outside with the standardized Black Shirt. He told her stepfather that he wanted nothing to do with Stella, as long as they allowed his family of 5 children to rent Stella’s childhood home. The stepfather agreed to this compromise because it was the only way he could protect Stella. However, he sternly told the man, “If you do anything with Stella, you will be very sorry.” The man was convicted and tried for his crimes after the war for sending a large amount of Jews to camps for money. The man claimed to not like the Germans and tried to defend himself by exclaiming how he only took the job to feed his family. After the war he was arrested for treason. Stella’s stepfather defended him in the courts since he sparred Esther and he pitied the man’s wife and five children. The man was still convicted and killed.
During the war, her new family received stamps and used them to redeem food every week. The food selection was limited to: a single egg, a pound of mysterious ground meat distributed every other week, a half liter of silk milk each day, hard bread made of chestnuts, and malt for a drink. They also bought food from the black-market, like: bread, since the one they received from the stamps did not taste right, potatoes, that were sometimes rotten, but they couldn’t say anything about it or they could risk Stella’s safety, and on a rare occasion, a bar of chocolate that they would all break evenly to share a piece. During this time no fruit, coffee, vitamin c, butter, or margarine was distributed. They were starving. Stella blew up and became chubby because she ate anything she could lay her eyes on, including potato skin, veggies, fruit, and two slices of bread per day. Her compulsory action was her way of coping for the loss of her parents.
One day, Stella felt sick at work. Marriane warned her to “Go back home, but be safe.” When Stella went on the tram, a Uber Commandaturie decided to have a surprise check of their papieran. Everyone had to get off of the train and line up against the wall so he could easily inspect everyone’s card. A woman who knew Stella quickly lined up next to her and grabbed her hand. Her grip was so tight that her nails imprinted onto Stella’s palm. The man made his way down the line to Stella’s papieran. He looked at her card, stared at her, and slowly gave it back. Stella believes “he felt sorry” for her. After the terrifying encounter was over, the woman who was clutching Stella’s hand turned to her and said, “I was so scarred for you.” Stella no longer felt sick after, but she did receive a major headache from the whole ordeal.
When the war ended, Stella still had hope that her parents would come back because she had seen other Jews beginning to arrive. Her stepparents slowly told Stella the truth about her parents after the war through the news and television. They had segments that revealed the horrors of concentration camps with ovens to burn the bodies. She was only 15 when a letter arrived in 1945 explaining how her parents were killed in Auschwitz. She also read it again in the newspaper. Stella describes the time by saying “it was terrible.”
At age 17, she switched to a job that paid twice the amount of money she earned at her step mom’s work, much to the unapproval of her step mom and boss. She did not like how her step mom was always on her case. She wanted her own freedom, like many teens still do nowadays days. Her step mom blocked all possibilities of that. She did not allow her to go out with friends after the war, disapproved of all her boyfriends, and was basically treating her as a puppet that she could control.
After the war, her brother wanted to take her with him to Israel since the flights were free and already paid for by a Jewish organization for orphans. The day before she had to go, her step mom told her that her stepfather would commit suicide if she did. She decided to stay with her stepparents and sent her brother a telegram “I’m not coming” in 1950. Although Stella’s step mom was extremely strict, Stella recognizes that she owes her life to her since she risked deportation to help her. When she looks back at that moment now, she believes it was a good thing she didn’t leave for Israel. That one decision allowed her to meet her future husband, Samy Mozelsio, who would be father to her three beloved children.
 A day of rest and celebration that begins on Friday at sunset and ends on the following evening after nightfall (chabad.org)
 Identity card in German (Stella)
 An institution offering shelter and support to people who are mentally ill (Google)
 Hidden children were sent away to live with a foster family and often given a new identity. (Ushmm.org)
 Means a little crazy in French (Stella)
 Step Mom in French (Stella)
 Step Dad in French (Stella)
 City of Ypres (Google Maps)
 Black Shirts, or Chemise Noir in French, were people who worked for the Germans to extract Jews from their homes in exchange for money (ushmm.org)
 German who worked for the Nazis by checking people’s identity cards randomly (Stella)
 Identity card in German (Stella)
1. Encylopedia Judaica Second Decision Vol. 17:RA-SAM