Esfir Lupyan

"Keep your Jewish-ness, do not assimilate! We must to be honest, just, and kind."

Name at birth
Esfir (Fira) Kaplan
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Minsk, Belarus (Former Soviet Union)
Name of father, occupation
Tsalia Kaplan, he was a student at PolyTechnical Institute. He was arrested by Stalin's regime in 1936, three weeks after I was born. Gulag coal mines for twenty years
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Bella Muroch, Bookkeeper
Immediate family (names, birth order)
My mother, one brother Gershon (born in 1929) and me
How many in entire extended family?
Seven aunts and uncles with about twelve cousins, and my Grandparents – Gershon and Miriam Muroch. None of them survived the Holocaust.
Who survived the Holocaust?
My mother and I survived, and two other cousins on my father's side survived. These two brothers were 16 and 20 years old, they were mobilized in the Red Army.
On June 1941, I was in summer kindergarten camp in the suburbs of Minsk. One day, we were suddenly hurried into trains and brought back into Minsk. All of the parents were running around the train station, trying to find their little ones. Later, we found out that some of the cars on the train had blown up and many of the children were killed! After German occupation about 80,000 Jews were relocated into the Minsk ghetto including my family. There was no food, no clean water, and no privacy. Several families lived in the one small house. 
Everyday there were pogroms and people were killed or died from starvation or disease. My 12 year old brother and Uncle Isaac became members of an underground organization. They supported our family by getting food from outside the ghetto. They also helped people to escape from the ghetto. Almost 10,000 people were saved by them, with the help of the underground organization hiding in the forest. 
My brother Gershon was brave and smart; friends called him Dare-Devil. Unfortunately, an informant betrayed my brother Gershon when he crawled under the barbed wire. He was tortured by the Gestapo, but did not betray any other members of the underground. He was killed in late 1942 or early 1943. Around that time, my lovely grandparents were killed in the central plaza of the ghetto when the fascists rounded up the elderly.
My mother and other young women began working as slaves in the rail station. They felt that it was better working outside then staying inside of ghetto. For a whole day of work, the slaves got one piece of bread and small bowl of soup. Since I was still very young, I stayed with my mother when she left the ghetto to work. Often, when workers returned home they could not find friends and relatives that they had left behind.  Even though they hid in cellars to avoid the roundups, many of them were killed, or died of starvation or disease. I grew up with other children feeling fear, being tense and silent, and trying to be invisible.
In October of 1943, the Germans were eager to kill any remaining Jews in ghetto. They forced inhabitants to the rail station of Minsk, where all of the survivors were lined up to board buses. My mama and I were in line with the rest of the people. We watched as each bus was filled with 70-80 people and then moved in an unknown direction. 
Somehow, my mother understood what was happening, that these buses were actually mobile gas chambers! She pulled me out of line and we ran as fast as we could to a building near the plaza. She opened a door, which led to the railroad platform and we walked along the rail line for a short distance. Luckily, a man who was a member of the resistance appeared out of a ditch.  He removed our yellow stars from our clothing and helped us to cover the area where the stars would have shown. Then he pointed us to a haystack to hide until after dark. Then he explained that we should go to the forest, and pointed us in the proper direction. After that, we hid in the forest for nine months, where we met other Jewish people and Russian partisans. We were in forest until the Red army freed Belarus from the Germans.
Name of Ghetto(s)
Where were you in hiding?
Forests around Minsk
Where were you in the Former Soviet Union?
I was born in Russia, and lived there until I was 53 years old
Where did you go after being liberated?
First we lived in a small town called Smilovichi. When we found out that my father was still alive in the Gulag, we moved there in 1945 to a village in the Gulag called Vorkuta. We stayed there until 1955. Next, I was in Leningrad at the Leningrad Institute learning organic chemistry from until 1960. When my father was finally freed from the Gulag, we returned to Minsk. It was very difficult to find work due to anti-Semitism.
When did you come to the United States?
In 1989, I came to Detroit with my first husband.
Where did you settle?
Detroit, Michigan
Occupation after the war
Industrial Chemist
When and where were you married?
I married my first husband in 1962 in Minsk. I married my Naum Layer in 1994
Naum Layer, Mechanical Engineer
Boris, computer programmer in Los Angeles, CA Miriam, database programmer in the Detroit area
I have two grandsons
What do you think helped you to survive?
I cannot say G-d, we did not learn about G-d. My mother saved me.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Keep your Jewish-ness, do not assimilate! We must to be honest, just, and kind.
Charles Silow
Interview date:
To learn more about this survivor, please visit:
The Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, University of Michigan

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