Local Holocaust survivor finds happiness in America after tragic past
Thirteen-year-old, Hannah Rose Berman-Schneider, of Long Grove talks with author, Estelle Glaser Laughlin, of Lincolnshire, at the Vernon Area Public Library Sunday. Glaser Laughlin was at the library, talking about her book, "Transcending Darkness," and
Updated: January 31, 2013 12:56PM
LINCOLNSHIRE — When Estelle Glaser Laughlin speaks about her memoir, the 82-year-old refers to her teenaged-self in the third person. That girl survived years of intense horrors, but Glaser Laughlin lives comfortably in Lincolnshire, with family at her side.
The separation she achieved helps her to speak about the joys she has found in the decades since escaping the Holocaust. It even allows her to consider the feelings of her captors.
“It’s amazing, how many unique stories there are,” Glaser Laughlin said on Friday, two days before she would present her book at the Vernon Area Public Library. “There’s as many as there are survivors — who were involved on both sides.”
Glaser Laughlin appears to have forgiven the soldiers who executed her father, the soldiers who let her live with that tragedy, the American teens who shut her out for being so different, and whatever higher power permitted so many of the friends she grew up with in Poland to lose so much. This is the theme of “Transcending Darkness: A Girl’s Journey Out of the Holocaust,” a 221-page hardcover autobiography published in November by Texas Tech University Press, the creation of which Glaser Laughlin spoke about on Sunday.
“It came from my father’s dreams for us,” she said. “I did not set out to write a book. But, Holocaust memories and questions stubbornly lingered in my head.
“I no longer remember where I last put my glasses, but I remember clear as day the events that turned my childhood into an inferno,” Glaser Laughlin continued. “I ask myself, ‘How did my mother, my sister and I survive?’ These questions, they loom in my mind more now, in the winter of my life. And hence, my book.”
At the VAPL, events coordinator Roz Topolski said Glaser Laughlin’s presentation sold out registrations for the library’s community room.
“She’s just such a lovely, interesting and amazingly optimistic woman,” Topolski said. “Even though she went through such a terrible time, she’s really warm. As the years go by, there’s fewer of them to hear from.”
The terrible time that Glaser Laughlin went through began at age 10, when Nazis captured Warsaw and later sent her family to concentration camps, where her father died. She survived two years of forced labor before the Russians liberated her camp in January of 1945.
But the Russians quickly became a threat of their own.
“We had to find a way to escape from Poland,” a decision that the proud Warsaw native said she hated, but understood. “Poland was under Russian domination. There was an iron gate. We’d had enough of the bloody Europe.”
The three women made their way to the Bronx, where other relatives and many Pols were beginning new lives.
“We had no money, we didn’t know the language, we had no skills,” Glaser Laughlin said.
After learning English, the now 18-year-old young lady found that she had little to discuss with other kids.
“If they would say ‘Oh, there’s nothing to eat,’ or ‘I was so hungry yesterday,’ I would share about my hunger,” Glaser Laughlin said. “Such silence would fall. And I would feel very set apart.
“The lightness of their laughter did not naturally flow from me,” she added. “Most of the people I knew were single, young people without any relatives.”
But she adapted — then fell in love, married and raised three boys. They moved to Cleveland, and she found a job as a teacher’s aide, where she still stood out — because of her gentle touch with the youngest students.
“Children touch in me the childhood that I had lost,” she said.
Glaser Laughlin never finished elementary school, but her coworkers urged her to study education at Case Western Reserve University; there, the dean of education took note of her and offered her a grant. She went on to earn a master’s as a remedial reading specialist from George Washington University.
Success in teaching, losing her first husband and remarrying followed. Her second husband died in 2008. So at the request of her son Andrew, now living in Long Grove, Glaser Laughlin moved to Lincolnshire in December of 2010, and started writing “Transcending Darkness.”
She worried about history repeating itself: In recession-stricken America, she sees a little of the self-destructive in-fighting that led to the rise of the Nazi party. And she starts referring to her childhood in the third person.
“People turn to anger,” she said. “Here is a young person who is surrounded by hatred, by cruelty and by suffering, and yet she holds on to goodness.”
As she recalled her childhood last week, she generally spoke about herself, But when she spoke further about how she and her sister, one and a half years older than her, fought for “the wholeness of their souls,” Glaser Laughlin took possession of that long-ago life again.
“We still had a song in our hearts.”