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.