Ethel Nagel, 92, survivor of Russian labor camps

A Holocaust survivor who spent most of the war in a Siberian labor camp died July 21 in San Francisco. She was 92.

Ethel Nagel, nee Puderbitel, was born June 16, 1912, in Lezeisk, Poland. Her father ran a hardware store for the agricultural community, and the family was fairly well-off.

Nagel attended university, and married Joseph Nagel, a lawyer, in 1938. In 1939, she gave birth to a son, Michael. Later that year, the Nazis invaded Poland, and some officers took over the Nagels’ family home, using it as their local headquarters.

One of the officers warned Nagel that their safety was in jeopardy if they stayed in the area and suggested they leave.

The family fled, crossing the Bug River to the Russian-controlled side, where Joseph Nagel had a cousin. They ended up being captured by the Russians and transported to Siberia.

The Nagels were forced into a labor camp there, and at the end of the war, they were transported to Kazakhstan. While they were in Siberia, the Nagels had a daughter, Anita, and were then moved to a displaced persons camp in Germany. They returned briefly to Poland but then immigrated to San Francisco in 1949, joining some family members already here.

Esther Nagel went to work as a seamstress at a dress shop and worked her way up to manager. She later opened a store with her brother.

The Nagels moved to Millbrae in 1965, where Esther became active at Peninsula Temple Sholom in Burlingame. She was also very active in Hadassah, serving as president of the Peninsula chapter.

“She was very generous in terms of Jewish organizations, she is on almost every Jewish mailing list,” said her son, Michael, of Menlo Park.

Nagel, who was predeceased by her husband in 1995, moved to a retirement home in San Mateo, where she took advantage of the rides to the symphony and opera well into her late 80s. She lived at the Jewish Home in San Francisco for the last few months of her life.

In addition to her son, Nagel is survived by daughter Anita Berman of Corte Madera; brother Jim Bartel of San Mateo; four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Donations can be sent to the Jewish Home, 302 Silver Ave., S.F., CA 94112 or Hadassah, Central Pacific Coast Region, 1400 Coleman Ave. F15, Santa Clara, CA 95050.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."