Miriam Friedman Ziegler was born in Radom, Poland on May 21, 1935 to Rose and Hershel Friedman. She was their only child. During a horse and buggy drive with her mother, from Radom, to nearby Ostrowiec in 1939 to escape the Nazis and find a hiding place at her grandparents, Faiga and Hershel Alkichen, Miriam Friedman’s life changed forever. Miriam, four years old at the time, came from a wealthy family that owned and operated several large clothing and general goods stores. But on that drive, the driver of the horse and buggy threw them off the buggy because he heard Nazi/German soldiers shooting in the distance. The driver was afraid to have Jews on his buggy. Her mother and her hid at the side of the road behind the bushes. The Nazi/German soldiers approached and shot and killed the driver of the horse and buggy, as Miriam and her mother watched from behind the bushes. Miriam and her mother waited until dark to walk towards Ostrowiec to her grandparent’s home. She never returned to Radom.
In Ostrowiec, one of Miriam’s cousins found a Polish farmer who agreed to let Miriam hide in his barn temporarily in exchange for a large sum of money. The farmer would often take Miriam with him to beg door-to-door during the day – a world apart from the life of comfort she had known just a few months before. Miriam’s parents were forced to work at nearby factories and building sites, but they tried to keep Miriam hidden as long as possible at various houses around Ostrowiec. Her safety, however, was far from guaranteed. At one house in the Ostrowiec Ghetto, she hid in the attic under grass, as every other Jew inside the attic was shot by the police. On another occasion, Miriam, saw the bodies of her own cousins hung near the forest outside of the town. Eventually, her parents smuggled her into the Ostrowiec Working Camp with them, where she hid with other children to avoid being discovered, since children were not allowed in the Working Camp. In 1944, when Miriam was nine years old, everyone in the Working Camp was put on cattle cars and deported to Auschwitz. There were only 5-6 children in the Camp, all had been smuggled in by their parents.
Upon arriving at Auschwitz, Miriam was separated from her mother and father and other family members. The men and women were separated. This was the last time Miriam saw her father. She was told later that he was killed in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Miriam was tattooed with the number A16891 and shaved.
Miriam was kept in the barrack where experiments were performed on the children. Miriam managed to survive with a number of other children until Auschwitz was liberated on January 27, 1945.
After liberation, all of the Auschwitz child survivors were taken to a newly established orphanage in Krakow. With no idea where her family was or if anyone had survived, she left a note at the train station in Krakow with her name, the names of her parents and grandparents, hoping they would somehow find her. Sick with tuberculosis and an eye infection, Miriam was then sent to Rapka, Poland, to a summer resort, to recover. From there she went to another summer resort near Warsaw for several weeks, and then returned to the Krakow to the orphanage. At some point, an old friend from their hometown saw the note that Miriam had left at the Krakow Train Station and told Rose, Miriam’s mother, who was in Czechoslovakia with her sister Bella (Miriam’s Aunt), waiting to make their way to Palestine. Rose and Bella came to the Krakow orphanage to reunite with Miriam. Miriam told them that she had seen her Grandmother, Faiga, in Auschwitz and she believed that she had also survived Auschwitz, however, she did not know where she was. The three of them decided to go to Ostrowiec to look for Faiga. In Ostrowiec, they found that their homes and business had been taken over by Polish people who refused entry to them. After searching they found Faiga at her nephew’s rented flat. There were too many people at the flat so they left the next day with Faiga.
The four of them made their way to Prague, Czechoslovakia. In Prague they were put in jail for several weeks for not having any papers to cross the border. From Prague they traveled to Vienna, Austria. From Vienna they made their way to a Displaced Persons (DP) Camp, called Bindermichl DP Camp in Linz, Austria. There, with the help of the Austrian government and various organizations, they were given a two bedroom flat. Rose opened a kiosk selling newspapers, magazines and cigarettes but was unable to support all four of them. Miriam was sent to an orphanage in the mountains near Salzberg, in a town called Strobl. There, volunteers taught them Hebrew, math and more. Strobel was a wonderful place and Miriam’s health returned. One of the volunteers, a reporter from the USA, interviewed Miriam and published her story in a New York newspaper which was then seen by her Great Uncles and Aunts, who had emigrated to both the USA and Canada before WWII. They made contact with Rose. They tried to bring the family to the USA but it was taking a very long time. In the meantime, Canadian Prime Minister, Mackenzie King, had declared that Canada would open their doors to 1000 Jewish Holocaust orphans. The entire orphanage was sponsored by the Canadian Jewish Congress to come to Canada. In February 1948, Miriam was able to immigrate to Toronto, ON, Canada. She went to live with her Great Uncle and cousins (the Halpern and Goldblatt family) in Hamilton, ON, Canada until her mother’s arrival two years later. Upon her mother’s and aunt’s arrival the family settled in Toronto, where she attended elementary and high school. Faiga, joined them a year later. Miriam worked after school and during the summer at a bakery and a toy factory to help support the four of them. After graduating from high school, Miriam took courses and worked as a bookkeeper.
In 1957, friends set Miriam up on a blind date with a fellow Holocaust survivor, Roman Ziegler. They married in 1958. Miriam and Roman recently celebrated their 61st Wedding Anniversary. Miriam has three wonderful children, Stuart, Debbie and Adrienne and she is the proud Bubbie of four, Dustin, Mara, Hannah and Jacob. Miriam, while bringing up her children, worked as a successful sales person in several ladies-wear stores for many years.
Miriam still keeps in touch with Paula Lebovics (Los Angeles) and Ruth Muschkies Webber (Detroit), who are pictured in the photograph.
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.