10/02/2023 Event

Report from the commemorative event, "Meeting Erika," in memory of the deceased contemporary witness Erika Estis

On September 26, 2023, the Jewish Girls’ School Memorial and Educational Site in cooperation with the Research Centre for Contemporary History in Hamburg and the Foundation of Hamburg Memorials and Learning Centres invited guests to the Jewish Cultural House on Flora-Neumann-Strasse. Titled, "Meeting Erika," the event was held to commemorate the 100-year-old contemporary witness Erika Estis née Freundlich, who passed away on January 14, 2023.

On November 14, 1922, Erika Estis was born in Hamburg, the youngest of four daughters to Jewish parents. Following the advice of her teacher, she fled to Great Britain on a "Kindertransport" in December 1938. Her sisters emigrated earlier. Her parents did not manage to escape. The National Socialists deported them to the Auschwitz death camp in July 1942 and murdered them there.

The introductory welcome by Dr. Anna von Villiez, Director of the Jewish Girls’ School Memorial and Educational Site, was followed by a speech by Rainer Schulz, State Councilor of the Hamburg Authority for Schools and Vocational Training. He paid special tribute to Erika's commitment to Hamburg's memory of National Socialism and her talks with young people. He emphasized what a gap she would leave behind. He also referred to his authority's continued responsibility to invest in political education and the commemoration of the victims of the crimes of National Socialism.

This was followed by insights into Erika Estis' life. Joachim Neumann read two moving letters, written by Erika's father, Paul Freundlich, to his daughter. A film clip from 2019, in which Erika Estis recounted her childhood in Hamburg, everyday life at the Israelitische Töchterschule (Jewish Girls’ School), and her experience on the Kindertransport, was shown. Afterwards, the history teacher and friend of Erika, Dagmar Lücke-Neumann, read from her book, "Meeting Erika." The book provides insights into the history and thoughts of the contemporary witness as well as her view of contemporary events.

A special highlight of the event was the conversation with two of the three children of the deceased. Kim Estes-Fradis and Wayne Estes traveled from the U.S.A. to remember their mother. On the podium, Dr. Anna von Villiez spoke with them about the memory of their mother, how they dealt with their history, and their joint family research for traces in Hamburg. Afterwards, young people from Hamburg presented their film, which was made with the contemporary witness as part of the Hamburg school project Geschichtomat. Erika's son was visibly moved, praised the commitment, and thanked the students present, who described their work with Erika as an honor and a unique experience.

Finally, Dr. Kristina Vagt, curator of the project, "denk.mal Hannoverscher Bahnhof," where the upcoming documentation center is going, gave insight into her personal memories of Erika Estis. At the same time, she emphasized the importance of the evening in the face of the approaching loss of the last living contemporary witnesses and increasing right-wing extremism. Digital traces such as interviews, but also memorials and descendants of the survivors will remain. The event "Meeting Erika" also supports this.

Text: Laura von Mering, Konrad Lütjohann

TV-reportage Hamburg Journal, 27.9.2023 (German)