Miriam was born in 1935 in Radom, Poland, to Rose and Hershel Friedman. She was an only child in a well-to-do family that owned and operated several large clothing and general goods stores.
In 1939, at the age of four, Miriam and her mother took a horse and buggy ride from Radom to the nearby town of Ostrowiec. They were heading to her grandparents Faiga and Hershel Alkichen to find a hiding place and escape the Nazis. They were forced off the buggy by the driver when he heard German soldiers shooting in the distance. Miriam and her mother hid in the bushes on the side of the road. They watched as the Nazi soldiers shot and killed the driver of the buggy. After nightfall, she and her mother made their way to Ostrowiec, never to return to Radom.
In exchange for a large amount of money, a Polish farmer allowed Miriam and her mother to hide temporarily. While her parents worked at nearby factories and building sites, they tried to keep Miriam hidden at various houses around Ostrowiec. Even in hiding, Miriam faced extreme danger. On one occasion, Miriam was hiding under grass in an attic of a home in the Ostrowiec ghetto. Miraculously, the Nazis shot every other Jew in the attic except for her. She also witnessed the bodies of her cousins hanging in a nearby forest. The danger for Jews was intensifying, and Miriam’s parents smuggled her into the Ostroweic working camp with them. Since children were not allowed in the camp, Miriam hid so the Nazis would not discover her. In 1944, all those working in the camp were loaded onto cattle trains and deported to Auschwitz. Miriam was one of six children who were also smuggled into the camp and faced the same fate as their parents.
Upon arrival in Auschwitz, Miriam was separated from her parents and the rest of her family. Men and women were separated. Their arrival at the camp would be the last time Miriam would see her father. She later found out that her father suffered the same fate as many others, murdered in the gas chambers. Miriam’s head was shaved, and she received a tattoo with the number A16891, her new identity in Auschwitz. She was placed in the same barrack as children who were used for horrid pseudo-scientific experiments. Miriam was liberated from Auschwitz on January 27th, 1945.
After her liberation from Auschwitz, Miriam and other children were sent to an orphanage in Krakow. Miriam left a note in the Krakow train station with her name and parents and grandparent’s names in the hopes that they would find her, unsure of who was still alive. Since she was sick with tuberculosis and an eye infection, Miriam was sent to a summer resort in Rabka, Poland, to recover. After spending several weeks in another summer resort, she returned to the orphanage. An old friend from her hometown miraculously came across the note that Miriam had left in the train station. She informed Miriam’s mother Rose, who was in Czechoslovakia, with Miriam’s Aunt, Bella, who was waiting to embark to Palestine. When Rose and Bella came to the orphanage to reunite with Miriam, she told them that she had seen her grandmother Faiga in Auschwitz and believed she may still be alive. Rose, Bella, and Miriam traveled to Ostrowiec in search of Faiga. They were lucky and found her.
Miriam, Rosa, Bella, and Faiga traveled to Prague, Czechoslovakia. Lacking the papers to cross the border, they were arrested in Prague and put in jail for several weeks. They then traveled to Vienna, Austria, where they made their way to a displaced persons camp, called Linz-Bindermichl DP Camp in Austria. They were given a two-bedroom flat. Although Rose opened a kiosk, selling newspapers, magazines, and cigarettes, she was not making enough to afford to support the four of them. Miriam was sent to an orphanage in the mountains near Salzberg, in a town called Strobl. The orphanage allowed Miriam to learn Hebrew and math.
Miriam found great comfort in these surroundings and returned to good health. One of the volunteers from the orphanage was a news reporter from New York who wrote about Miriam’s story. Her great aunts and uncles, who had emigrated to the US and Canada before the war, saw the story. They contacted Rosa to bring her to the US, but the process was very lengthy. In the meantime, the Canadian Prime Minister had decided to let 1,000 Jewish orphans into its borders. The Canadian Jewish Congress sponsored the entire orphanage to come to Canada. In February 1948, Miriam made her way into Canada and eventually settled in Toronto with her mother and aunt. Her grandmother joined a short time later. Miriam attended elementary school and then high school. She worked in a bakery and toy factory in the summer to help support her family. She also took a course and worked as a bookkeeper.
In 1957, Miriam was set up on a blind date with Roman Ziegler, a fellow survivor. They married in 1958. They had three children and four grandchildren.
What does Auschwitz mean to you?
Death and horrible times. A horrific time in history. Nightmares. Survival. The Holocaust.
My message for future generations is…
It should never happen again! Hate has no place in this world. Speak up against hate, we cannot be silent. I am a proud and strong Jew. The world must know what happened.
Who will be accompanying you on this journey?
My daughter, Debbie Ziegler.
Debbie is a Principal of a large High School in Thornhill, ON, Canada.
She educates young people and colleagues about the Holocaust and the dangers of hate.