Esther Raab, 92, Holocaust survivor

O-JRAAB14
Esther Terner Raab.

Esther Terner Raab was among the 300 prisoners who on Oct. 14, 1943, escaped from Sobibor, the Nazi death camp in Poland.

Mrs. Raab years later served as a consultant on the Belgrade set of Escape From Sobibor, the three-hour TV movie shown on the CBS network in 1987.

A stage play about her, Dear Esther, was performed in 1998 at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and is performed regularly for student audiences in the Philadelphia region.

She traveled often to testify at trials in Germany of concentration camp officials, a son, Abe, said.

On Monday, April 13, Mrs. Raab, 92, who devoted herself to retelling her experiences during the Holocaust, died at her home in Vineland, N.J.

"She was a woman of valor, a woman of courage, a woman of modesty and of wisdom," her rabbi, Yisroel Rapoport of Sons of Jacob Congregation in Vineland, said.

"She was a friend; a teacher who fulfilled her vows to tell the world about the atrocities of what happened in the genocide of the Holocaust."

Born in Chelm, Poland, she was 21 when she escaped from Sobibor, almost two years after arriving there on Dec. 22, 1942.

She had survived because she was a seamstress, useful to the Nazis who ran the camp.

An article about Sobibor, on the website of the Holocaust Museum, states that prisoners arrived between May 1942 and the fall of 1943, with "at least 170,000" murdered before it closed in 1944.

Though 300 of the 600 inmates there on that October day escaped, about 100 of the escapees were caught.

In 1992, Mrs. Raab was interviewed by Holocaust Museum researchers.

The escape, she recalled, took place while the camp commandant was away.

On that day, she said, she "put on two sweaters, and my boots I put on for the first time again, and I got dressed with a coat and a kerchief, and, you know, you didn't take no luggage with you, you didn't know where you were going or if you'll make it."

Some inmates followed months-long plans and began knifing guards.

But, she said, "a lot of people were panicky right away. A lot of people didn't want to go, they gave up. And those who felt they want to try, just run in all directions."

She saw people climbing a stepladder against a barbed fence to a minefield beyond.

"I just jumped up that stepladder, and as I was on top I noticed a lot of bodies already on the mines," she said, referring to escapees who hadn't made it across the minefield.

As she fell over the fence, slightly wounded by a shot from a camp guard, she landed on bodies in the minefield.

"I was so much aware that the will to live was so great, there's no measurement to it, that I started hopping on dead bodies," making her way through the minefield.

Soon she was in the woods. And free.

In a 1987 Inquirer interview, Mrs. Raab said she hid for nine months under a barn owned by a friend of her father, in a room scraped out beneath hard-packed straw.

She and Irving Raab had known each other in her hometown of Chelm, their son said. Irving Raab had fled to Russia early in the war, returned as the Soviets moved west, and met Esther when she returned to Chelm.

The two married in Berlin in 1946, and moved to the United States in 1950, where she became personnel manager for the Vineland Kosher Poultry Co., which her husband opened in 1968 and closed in 2010.

Besides her son and husband, Mrs. Raab is survived by son Marvin; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A visitation was set from 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 14, at Sons of Jacob Congregation, 321 W. Grape St., Vineland, before an 11 a.m. funeral service there, with interment in Alliance Cemetery, Vineland.

Donations may be sent to the Esther and Irving Raab Holocaust Collection, Cumberland County College, Box 1500, Vineland, N.J. 08362-1500.

Condolences may be offered to the family at www.plattmemorial.com.


wnaedele@phillynews.com

610-313-8134 @WNaedele