Friday, May 4, 2018

Miriam's Story

I was born in the city of Zamosc. I was a school girl and the 
youngest of seven children. In 1939, when Germany invaded Poland I was eleven years old. My father was a grain merchant. At home both Yiddish and Polish were spoken. My family was orthodox and the Sabbath and all the holidays were observed. I remember with fondness my mother baking every Friday morning and the wonderful smell of the special breads and cakes.

The marketplace in Zamosc

There was a great deal of anti-semitism.  Jewish students were 
not always accepted to schools of higher education. Bands of 
anti-Semites would attack small businesses that were owned by
Jews. Also at universities here was a well- organized 
organization that would often beat up Jewish youth.

I heard about the German invasion over the radio. Two days into
the war our city was bombed. Many of our neighbors were killed. 
In addition to dropping  bombs on heavily populated residential 
areas, the planes were also strafing the civilians as we were 
running from the burning houses.

My family was greatly affected and our lives changed forever. 
Just before the war, in January 1939, my parents were able to
leave Poland to join my two older brothers who were in the
United States. Because of strict immigration quotas the rest
of us had to wait until December to migrate to the U.S. The war
started in September, 1939 and all communication was broken. 
My sister Adele and I were minors and lived with my sister Anna
and her husband. Their little girl Esther was born in 1940. Our
family was able to move east to the Ukraine to escape the
German occupation. We lived in the Soviet Union for two years
before the Germans invaded.

As soon as the German army occupied our area they rounded up
all the Jewish men and had them dig graves. With the help of 
civilian collaborators the Jews were ordered to strip naked and be
shot. My two brothers, eighteen and nineteen years old, were in
the first roundup and killed. Whoever survived were ordered to
move into one area designated by the Germans. This became
the Jewish ghetto.

The Jewish Ghetto, Zomasc

Able and healthy Jews worked doing tailoring, 
shoemaking and road work. Every few weeks there would be a 
surprised roundup. Trucks were waiting, Jews were loaded and 
taken to the nearest forest. Graves were ready and the killing 
would go on. It is impossible to describe our lives. Although the 
roundups were usually by day, there were often rumors there 
would be a roundup that night. Food was very scarce. Everyone
was hungry. We had few possessions that we were able to barter 
with a nearby farmer and his wife and they befriended us. So we 
were able to get some flour or bread or milk.

In the fall of 1942 an order came to vacate the ghetto. My sister 
Anna and her child were rounded up and so were I and Adele 
along with hundreds of others. We were ordered to take off our 
clothes. My family started running looking for a place to hide.

Miriam and Adele in Germany

Adele who is one year older than me, and I ran together. Adele 
saw an open door to a house with no police around. We 
stepped inside. The house was deserted and had a strange odor. 
We realized that it was a tannery. There was a ladder leading to 
a loft and we climbed up and dragged the ladder up behind us. 
After some time it became very quiet. Suddenly we heard our 
sister Anna’s voice. The police had found her. She was 
pleading for them not to kill her baby. Then we heard two shots. 
We waited a little longer. Then I started coughing and needed 
some water. Because of the quiet we were sure the killing was 
over so I jumped down and Adele also jumped down. A 
collaborator must have heard us and came into the house with 
his rifle up. He ordered us out of the house. As we went out a 
German soldier appeared, looked at his watch, and said, “Let 
them go. Enough for today.” So suddenly, at ages 14 and 15, 
Adele and I became adults. A few highly skilled Jews were still 
alive. We stayed with them overnight.

The following day Adele and I made our way to the nearby farmer 
who had befriended us. They gave us something to eat. They 
said they had one baptismal certificate they could give us to use 
as a birth identity to pass as Christians. They also gave us a 
small medallion of a saint. The farmer’s wife gave us each a 
half loaf of bread and we got a bottle of water. She said,
” Tomorrow is Sunday. Lots of people will be on the road. Start 
walking and don’t look back.” And so we did.

We headed east, hoping to find a safe place where the 
Germans hadn’t reached yet. We hitch-hiked but had to 
split up in order to get rides. In order to get food I needed 
a job and food ration card. I registered in the government 
employment center and showed my baptismal certificate 
as an ID. The official was suspicious and said he would 
inquire from my parish priest. Just as he was writing 
down the information from my document, a German 
officer appeared and said,” This girl will do.” I was told to 
report the next morning to be taken with other Russian 
women to work for the German army. This is how I 
became a slave laborer for the Germans.

Miriam's German/Nazi ID card. Her name was Maria Skarschinska, a Polish
office worker. Not a Jew.

During the following years I worked as kitchen help in army 
hospitals traveling in Italy and eventually Germany. I was 
liberated by the American army in April 1945. I was able to 
find my sister who had also been a slave laborer in Germany. 
I was able to get a job working in an army px. For the first 
time in years I found kindness and help from American GIs. 
When the American soldiers found out that we had parents 
living in New York City some of them wrote to relatives in New 
York. Knowing we came from Zamosc one of them contacted 
a Zamosc “landsmannschaft”, a fraternal order of immigrants 
from the same place. They recognized the names and our 
parents contacted us through the army post office. In 1946 
we came to the United States and were reunited with our 

I believe the lessons your generation (and mine) must be taught 
is that we must respect one another regardless of ethnic or 
religious differences. We must strive for a peaceful world for 
everyone without hatred.


Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Berman/Barosin's & the birth of Berman's Motor Express

Isaac Berman (Barosin) married Sarah Schmuelowtsch in 1910. 
Two years later they boarded a boat in Liverpool and sailed to
Boston. So began the Barosin/Berman odyssey in the United 


Isaac was the son of Pinches Barosin, a teacher in the small 
Latvian town of Varaklani (Warkland). At the time of Isaac’s 
birth, it was the most Jewish of Latvian villages. 1,337 Jews, 
75% of the town’s population, called it home in 1897. On August
August 4, 1941 the Nazi troops entered the village and 
executed Varaklani’s 952 Jewish residents. Today only one
Jewish person lives in the village.   

Sara was from Vilna, Lithuania. Vilna was  known as the 
Jerusalem of the North because it was “without peer as a
center of Jewish culture, learning, and political activity.” It was
the crown jewel of Jewish culture. In the eighteenth century it was
hub of Jewish scholarship. In the nineteenth the focal point
of the Jewish enlightenment movement. By the beginning of the
twentieth century it was home to 76,000 Jews, half the city's
100 synagogues and the bund, a pan-European, socialist
organization organized to promote the  Yiddish language,
the rights of Jewish workers, and Jewish national autonomy.

Bund members were active in the 1905 revolution. Following the 
defeat of the revolution, pogroms broke out across Russia. In 
response Socialists organized self-defense units. The authorities
disbanded these units, confiscated their weapons and arrested
many activists. Some fled abroad and those left went

Issac who was orphaned by the age of twelve was attracted
to the 1905 revolution and became a Bolshevik sympathizer.
He once told his children he helped barricade the streets
in 1905. Issac believed the 1917 revolution was the
salvation of the Jews. He maintained his commitment to
socialist ideas throughout his life even as he became a
successful capitalist.

Issac migrated from Varaklani to Copenhagen, Denmark,
home of his younger siblings, shortly after the revolution’s
defeat. Once settled, he sent for Sara  whom he had met
on a visit to Vilna.

The first two Berman children, Ida and Benjamin (Pinches), were 
born in Copenhagen in 1911 and 1912. 

Shortly after Ben was born, the young couple migrated to the 
United States. Their port of entry was Boston.  U.S. immigration 
law, while not as restrictive as it would become in the early 1920s, 
required a family sponsor. Sarah’s sisters who lived in
Binghamton, New York where their husbands were in business
probably sponsored them.  

Isaac had apprenticed as a shoe cobbler or a printer in Varaklani.
The facts are unclear. But it is certain he wanted to make it  on
his own. One of his first ventures was a candy store 
in Hartford, Connecticut. But that was short lived.
One day Sarah heard Ben crying. She entered his room to  
discover that a mouse had climbed into his crib and bitten him. 
Sarah was horrified. She put her foot down, insisting the family 
leave Hartford for Binghamton where one of Isaac’s sisters was
married to Hymie Galinsky, the son of Anna and Nathan Galinsky. 
Hymie was a junk-man. He eventually opened an automobile 
graveyard selling  parts from junked cars.
Another os Sara’s sisters, Rose, also lived in Binghamton.
She was married to Simon Sall, a butcher.

Isaac was strong-willed with an independent streak. He was not 
interested in working for or with his brothers in-laws. He wanted 
to make it in America on his own. He worked as a junk man and 
then during WWl at Endicott Johnson shoe factories in Johnson 
City and Endicott NY. 


During the war, shoe-making provided enough  overtime that
Isaac could support his growing family of Ida, Jack, Ben,
Charlotte, and Fran. But when the war ended so did the
overtime. Shoe factory wages were simply not enough to
support the growing Berman family of seven.

Simon proposed that he and Isaac go into the business together 
relying on Simon's butchering skills. The plan was simple- they 
would buy cows from nearby farmers, Simon could butcher them, 
and they would sell the meat. All they needed was a truck to 
transport the cows. Together, they secured a bank loan and 
bought a truck.

Simon and Isaac drove out of town to visit a farmer they had 
befriended. Since Isaac knew nothing about farms or animals, 
he left  Simon in charge while he explored the farm. When Isaac
returned, Simon had successfully purchased a cow. To Isaac’s 
surprise and dismay, however, the animal was dead. Isaac 
asked Simon why he had purchased a dead animal. “That is why
we got such a good deal,” Simon replied.

Isaac knew little about the meat business. But he knew enough to 
not want any part of a dead, presumably diseased, animal. He
told Simon, “You take the cow, I’ll make a living with the truck.”
And that was the beginning of Berman’s Motor Express.

Mary, the fourth daughter of Isaac and Sarah and sixth of their 
children,  was born in Binghamton. At some point the family 
moved to Marathon, N.Y. where Arnold and Sammy, the two 
youngest children were born.

Isaac was aggressive, ambitious and gregarious. He traveled
the countryside befriending  the area’s farmers, many of whom
were Slavic immigrants and, like Isaac, socialist. Their ideological
compatibility helped Isaac convince the farmers to let him deliver
their eggs to New York City. To secure their business Isaac
guaranteed them the price of their eggs. His competitors, the
railroads forced the farmers to eat any fall in prices. To ensure
the round trip to New York City was profitable, Isaac began
hauling sugar on the return to Binghamton. Ben and Jack,
the oldest Berman boys, went on trips to NYC even before
graduating from high school.  

When the economy collapsed in 1929, the price of eggs would 
plummet in the day it took to deliver them to the city. Isaac
was losing money and could no longer justify making the trip. He
decided to expand into hauling freight. Fortuitously a trucking 
company called B & B with a Binghamton to Boston route went 
bankrupt. Isaac purchased the route in 1933. Ben and Jack who 
had graduated high school were his drivers. Ida, the oldest 
Berman child who had completed her work at NYU, but never 
graduated, took customer calls during the day and worked as 
the company’s bookkeeper. Berman’s was truly a family affair.

The railroads were regulated in the latter part of the nineteenth 
century with the establishment of the Interstate Commerce 
Commission. By 1934, their monopoly on interstate transport was
 threatened by the emerging trucking industry. The railroads
successfully lobbied the federal government to regulate trucking.
As a result, in 1934 trucking was federally regulated. Ida read
the ICC regulations and completed the paperwork to ensure that
the Berman routes were secured.

As BME expanded, it secured another route to Pittsburgh 
becoming a regional trucking business.

The company was unionized by the Teamsters during the 
great union drives of the 1930’s and 40’s. Isaac’s children, 
recognizing the contradiction between his commitment to 
socialism and his success as a capitalist, would tease him
about supporting the worker’s right to organize. His response
was that the steel workers and the auto workers were
proletarians, but the teamsters were a bunch of bums.

When the Red Army marched into Peking, Isaac threw a party
at his Brookline home to celebrate.

Following WWII Sammy, a bombardier during WWII who was
awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal seven
times, joined the business after a short stint in Madison,
Wisconsin. Isaac unexpectedly died in 1952. Ben, Jack and
Sammy took over the business. Ben and Sammy ran the
Boston terminal. Jack ran the Binghamton operation. 

Sarah died in 1971.

Berman's Motor Express flourished until it was sold in the middle
1980’s after the trucking industry was deregulated by the Carter 
administration.  It was a wise move as deregulation 
destabilized the industry.

All that remains is a terminal in Medford and the memories.