In 1941, I was a 14 year-old girl stripped away from my home in Poland. My family and I were placed in a ghetto. A year later, the ghetto was liquidated and the Nazis sent us to Koszedary labor camp. I recall at one point that the Germans came with dogs and loudspeakers. Men, women, and children were brutally separated. The mothers were forced to put their children in a group. Everyone was told not to move or they would be shot. A few were. The children were taken away and killed. I had no idea that that would be the last time I ever saw my brother.
The following months I learned that my parents were sent to Dachau concentration camp. They died mere months before the war ended. I was transferred to many different labor camps over the coming years, the first one being in Prussia. I worked in fields, picking kohlrabi. I slept in tents with 9 other girls. Winter was brutal, filled with snow and shivering temperatures. My hair would freeze to the ground. I had no shoes, and only a man’s coat to keep me warm. Many of my friends died from the cold or starvation or both. For me, the thought of reuniting with my family kept me going. I wanted to show them that I was strong when I got out of there. I would fantasize about who they had become, surely hardened by their suffering as I was by mine. My little brother, 9 years old at the time, must have grown so tall! And my father, his hair once a refined salt and pepper, must have been fully gray by now. Thoughts like these as well as my faith in God guided me through these insufferable times. The Nazis could not take that away from me; there was comfort in knowing that the thoughts I shaped for myself could not be touched by them.
When the Germans lost the war and we were liberated in 1945, I left the camp with a friend. The following months in Poland, I wrote poems in Yiddish with a paper and pencil or anything else I could find. The coming years I would paint with water colors. I had always loved to paint growing up, and at that point I was quite drawn to it. It was cathartic for me.
Unsurprisingly, I never found my family, but I moved on, as one must do in life. So I started a new one. In 1949, I moved to America with my new husband, Elliot Mirman, who escaped Poland during the war and fled to Russia to fight for the Soviets. He was a dashing, intelligent, kind young man who was also determined to start fresh.
Fast forward decades later and I am an old woman! I am blessed with children, grandchildren, and a heart full with love (though it doesn’t quite work like it used to)! As a 92 year old woman, I have a plethora of chronic health conditions that I have been dealing with for several years now – congestive heart failure, a stroke, and severe osteoporosis with a broken pelvis to show for it. Everything is hard for me. I can no longer paint or cook, and it is near impossible to go to synagogue which has always been a source of joy for me. It would be easy to think about all of the things that I can no longer do or enjoy. But I find myself now more than ever structuring my thoughts the way I did 75 years ago: finding comfort in the fact that my thoughts are still my own. I think about how grateful I am to have children who visit me every single day. I think about how proud I am of my two beautiful grandchildren, both in medical school, who call me every week and tell me about their lives. I think about how many other people my age may not have this love and attention, who may be worse off than I am both physically and mentally. The closer to death I become, the more I realize just how lucky I am to be alive. And just like that, my aches and pains are reduced to nothing.