‘I Became Their Voice’: Survivor Reflects On Holocaust, Preservation Of Stories
Sunday marked the international community’s commemoration of lives lost and tragedy caused during the Holocaust. Although it took place more than 70 years ago, its lessons continue to resonate today.
“Those [lessons] are not bound by time,” Dan Reich, curator and director of education at the Holocaust Museum & Learning Center, told host Don Marsh on Monday’s St. Louis on the Air.
“I hope that the Holocaust will continue to be commemorated,” he said. “But also [that] the lessons of the Holocaust will continue to resonate … the lessons of not being a bystander, being very aware of what's going on around you, being watchful – those lessons are still very, very relevant today.”
Joining the program alongside Marsh and Reich was survivor Rachel Miller. The three of them discussed how the younger generations will continue to tell the stories of those who experienced the Holocaust as survivors pass away. Miller, who now resides in Chesterfield, Missouri, also shared her own harrowing story of living through the Nazi occupation.
Listen to survivor Rachel Miller's story:
Miller’s parents left their “comfortable home” in Warsaw, Poland, in 1932 due to the rise in anti-Semitism and resettled in Paris, France – where Miller was born a year later.
“1939, September 1st, I was sitting on the buffet [and] my father was cutting my hair when I heard him say to my mother, ‘It’s the beginning of doom,’” Miller recalled, adding that it was the day Germany invaded Poland. The Nazis went on to invade France and other European countries.
Miller’s father later died due to Nazi experimentation, and in an effort to save Miller’s life, her mother sent her away to a farm in the countryside – where only the farmer and Miller’s closest friend knew of her true identity.
“My mother said to me, ‘Rachel, I'm going to give you a new name. Your new name is Christine, and you're not allowed to tell anyone you're Jewish,’” Miller recalled. Her mother and siblings had planned to join her in the countryside, but they were picked up by Nazis in a raid.
“I was very angry at my mother. Why did she send me away? Why didn’t she keep me with her? I was a child. I was 9 years old,” Miller said. During the following years, Miller lived with her aunt in hiding to avoid raids.
It wasn’t until after the invasion of Normandy and the end of World War II that Miller discovered93 members of her family had been murdered in Auschwitz.
A soldier found Miller in an orphanage and brought her to the United States when she was 13 years old – and physically abused her multiple times in that process.
“I was in five different foster homes until I get married. So my war did not end when I came to the United States – it continued until I got married,” Miller said.
Reich reiterated that while organizations put together detailed programs to help educate people on the subject matter, “nothing carries the weight of the survivor’s story.”
“From the survivor, we also have a second generation – children of survivors – telling their parents’ story,” he noted. “And that's the most moving, most powerful portion of the visit [at the Holocaust Museum.]”
As survivors pass away, museums and other organizations look for ways to continue telling the stories of those who experienced the Nazi occupation.
“We've lost a significant number of our survivors, which is why we treasure the survivors we still have … We have been having children of survivors tell their parents’ story and that can be very effective. It's not quite the same as that first person. We do have an oral history project. So we do have our survivors on tape, but it’s still good to have that actual voice,” Reich added.
“I lost 93 people in the war, and I became their voice. It's important for me to talk about them so they are not forgotten,” Miller said, also remembering the lives of the 23 million people murdered by the Nazi regime.
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.