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‘My survival journey’: Holocaust survivor Irene Miller

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Sean Bradley – Morning SunIrene Miller (right) speaks to Alma High School students on Friday, Dec. 16 about her experiences surviving the Holocaust. She was brought to the school to speak by teacher Kathleen Rau.

**This story has been corrected to say the name of Miller’s memoir is “Into No Man’s Land” and Miller and her family left the Siberian labor camp after the war ended and she and her sister went to an orphanage after the war.

Not one of the of nearly 70 members of the extended family of Irene Miller survived the Holocaust.

Born in Warsaw, Poland, Miller’s immediate family – except her father – survived the atrocities surrounding World War II.

Miller, who wrote her memoir “Into No Man’s Land” and is the subject of a recently-released PBS documentary, spoke on Friday to students at Alma High School, recounting her story of survival.

She was brought to the school to speak by teacher Kathleen Rau.

“I just love facilitating being able to help share her message with students because of the adversity she’s overcome,” Rau said.

Here are five takeaways from her presentation:

• “Day and night, bombs were falling”

During the beginning of World War II, she and her family lived on the fourth or fifth floor of an apartment in Warsaw, later moving to a second floor apartment in the same building. In the winter of 1939, the lease to their apartment was sold and she and her family were smuggled into the Soviet Union. They, like many others, wore layers of clothing on their journey to avoid carrying luggage. The family thought they were heading to the village of Belostok but were taken to “No Man’s Land”, an empty field, and lived there for about six weeks. “The only fluid we had for drinking was the melted snow,” she said.

• Family together, for a short time

Her father later bribed a Soviet official to cross the border into Russia but under the condition Miller’s mother could not go; only she and her sister could go. Eventually, they made it to Belostok, living in a bare cabin. “For a little girl who would never again see her momma, that was impossible to understand,” Miller said. But, fortunately, she did see her mother again later on. Soviet soldiers took young men away and her mother tried to warn her father, but missed the train to take to do so. Later, the soldiers came and took Miller and her sister away.

• Life in a Siberian labor camp

Miller and her entire family spent more than two years in a Siberian labor camp, surviving on a cup of soup a day and, occasionally, a piece of bread.

She said the temperature, at times, would drop to 50 degree Fahrenheit below zero. “We didn’t have the clothing for that type of climate,” Miller said. “Every item was rationed.”

• Escaping the camp and Uzbekistan

Later, the family left the labor camp after the war ended and lived in Uzbekistan where, she said, they were starving.

“There was nothing they could grow,” Miller said. “There was no way of finding work.”

They lived on boiled unions and even boiled grass and leaves. She later contracted malaria but recovered. “I looked at my body and it scared me,” she said. “My whole body was green.” She later spent many years in an orphanage, not because her parents had died – her father later died of dysentery in Uzbekistan – but to save the children from starvation. “The caregivers shaved the children’s heads because the sanitary conditions were horrible,” she said. She lived with about 100 other children. “I did not complain. I did not cry,” she said. “But I never thought of myself as poor. I was hungry but I assumed the other children were hungry as well.” She later learned to read in Polish and Russian while at the orphanage.

• Later life

Miller returned to Poland in 1946, living in other orphanages for about four or five years. She left her last orphanage at 17 years old and, in 1950, went with her mother to live in Israel. At the age of 21, she came to the U.S., married and with a child. She later studied at the University of Cincinnati, earning two masters degrees and becoming a healthcare executive who has held positions as a hospital administrator, developer and administrator of the first federally-qualified HMO in Michigan. She was also the director of mental health for Livingston County, director of the psychiatric division at Detroit Osteopathic Hospital and director of treatment centers for drug addicted and dual diagnosed women and their children at the Detroit Medical Center. She also served for one year in Washington, D.C. on an advisory committee for issues related to drug addiction in women and children. For two years, she was a public school teacher in Israel.

“We each have a responsibility to make this world a little better for everyone,” Miller said. “I respect, fully and equally, every human being,” she said.


Originally published HERE

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