Holocaust survivor addresses Mosaic students

Holocaust survivor Irene Miller talks with Chippewa Hills Mosaic School students about her experiences during WWII and what she learned from her time in “no man’s land,” labor camps, and orphanages, and while immigrating to different countries. (Pioneer photo/Meghan Gunther-Haas)

REMUS — Irene Miller was a small child when Germany attacked Poland in the 1930s.

On Tuesday, she stood before Chippewa Hills Mosaic School students to talk about surviving World War II and what she has learned from her experiences. Students sat quietly, some with wide eyes, as Miller retold different memories from her childhood, which began in Warsaw, Poland.

“I remember exactly where I was when the Nazis occupied Warsaw,” she said, noting before the occupation, bombs were dropped on houses throughout the city, including into the apartment she and her family were inhabiting with others at the time.

During the winter of 1939-40, Miller’s parents, who were Jewish and political activists, paid to have the family of four smuggled out of Warsaw and over the border into the Soviet Union. Tucked into a wagon-load of hay, the family was transported past what they were told was the border, only to find they had been left in “no man’s land,” an area between the borders of the Soviet Union and Poland.

“No man’s land” became the family’s home for approximately six weeks before Miller’s father smuggled himself into the Soviet Union and bribed an official for a letter to bring Miller and her sister across the border. Due to an error, Miller’s mother was not included in the letter and was left in “no man’s land.”

Miller was eventually reunited with her mother, who had been taken by Germans and loaded on a cargo train. Miller’s mother eventually escaped and returned to Warsaw, where a sister helped smuggle her into the Soviet Union.

Soon after, the family was taken by train to a Soviet labor camp in Siberian, where bears would come to the front door of the cabin Miller’s family stayed in and the temperatures would drop to 50 degrees below zero at night. Miller said the family remained in the northern labor camp for approximately two years before being given the option to be shipped to Uzbekistan.

“We were hungry in Siberia, but we were starving in Uzbekistan,” Miller said, noting her mother would harvest anything she could in a nearby field, boil the vegetation and sample it first to see how she would react to what was made before feeding it to the family.

In hopes of providing Miller and her sister with better living conditions, Miller’s parents allowed the girls to be taken to an orphanage for Jewish children.

“One day, a man came to the village and talked to my parents. The next day, he came with a horse and buggy,” Miller said.

WWII ended in 1945, but Miller stayed in an orphanage until 1946. In 1950, Miller joined her mother and sister in immigrating to Israel and later, moved to America with her husband.

“I am fortunate that I was able to survive and make a good life,” she said. “I try to use my time and skills to help the community. My mission in life is to use my Holocaust experience to promote tolerance and diversity.  I have traveled to countries all over the world and have found we basically have the same desires.

“We each have a responsibility to make the world the best we can for everyone.”

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Posted by Meghan Gunther-Haas

Meghan is the education reporter for the Pioneer and Herald Review. She can be reached at (231) 592-8382 or by email at mhaas@pioneergroup.com.

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