‘It’s The Be­gin­ning Of Doom’


McDonald County Press - - FRONT PAGE - Rick Peck

Rachel Miller sur­vived the Holo­caust. Ninety-three mem­bers of her fam­ily did not.

Miller, an 83-year-old res­i­dent of St. Louis, spoke to stu­dents at McDon­ald County High School on Tues­day, be­fore a com­mu­nity pre­sen­ta­tion that night.

The re­mark­ably re­silient, diminu­tive oc­to­ge­nar­ian emo­tion­ally painted a bru­tal pic­ture of the hor­rors of be­ing Jewish dur­ing the reign of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime.

“The Ger­mans killed 23 mil­lion peo­ple,” Miller said. “Six mil­lion were Jews. Of the Jews, one and a half mil­lion were chil­dren. They killed peo­ple with men­tal dis­abil­i­ties. They killed hand­i­capped peo­ple. They killed Je­ho­vah Wit­nesses. They killed Gyp­sies. They killed three mil­lion Rus­sians. They killed gays. They killed and they killed and they killed — 23 mil­lion peo­ple. How can an in­tel­li­gent peo­ple like the Ger­mans do such a thing? No­body knew what was go­ing on. They didn’t want to know be­cause they had a won­der­ful, won­der­ful life while Hitler was in power.”

Of the six mil­lion Jews killed, 93 were Miller’s fam­ily mem­bers, in­clud­ing her dad, mom, two broth­ers and sis­ter. Only five of her fam­ily mem­bers sur­vived.

Miller opens her story from the be­gin­ning of the rise of Nazi power in Europe. She was born in Paris in 1933 to par­ents who fled Poland in or­der to es­cape the rise of an­tiSemitism

“I heard my fa­ther say to my mother, ‘It’s the be­gin­ning of doom,’” Miller said. “I was 6 years old and it reg­is­tered with me. I can’t be­lieve it reg­is­tered, and I still re­mem­ber him say­ing that. That was the day Ger­many in­vaded Poland.”

Miller said life re­mained about the same for the fam­ily in the short term.

“We used to get to­gether with my aunt, my un­cle and my cousins ev­ery Satur­day night,” Miller said. “We would have candy and ice cream. We used to sing in three dif­fer­ent lan­guages. We sang in French and Yid­dish, and they sang in Pol­ish. It was such a happy time. I just loved it.”

Miller said the good times were soon over. She said on June 23, 1940, less than a year after in­vad­ing Poland, the Ger­man forces were “wel­comed” into Paris.

“Mar­shal Pe­tain made a deal with Hitler that if he did not bomb us, he could come in and the French would wel­come him with open arms,” Miller said. “And that is ex­actly what the French did.”

Miller said that when she saw a pa­rade of the Ger­mans march­ing down her street, it hit her on what was hap­pen­ing.

“When I saw them and their horses and their cars and their mo­tor­cy­cles, I be­came pet­ri­fied,” Miller said. “I ran up­stairs and started to cry. All I could say is, ‘I’m afraid. I’m afraid. I’m afraid.’ I had good rea­son to be afraid.”

Over the next few years, Miller’s in­stincts about the Ger­mans were proved to be cor­rect.

On Aug. 20, 1941, the French po­lice and Ger­man SS came to the Miller’s house and picked up Rachel’s fa­ther and her two un­cles. They were taken to var­i­ous camps be­fore be­ing trans­ferred to a camp just out­side Paris. The fam­ily was al­lowed to visit for one hour, three times a week.

Rachel vis­ited her fa­ther on

Dec. 28, 1941.

“I was so ex­cited,” she said. “My fa­ther was com­ing home on New Year’s Day. As far as I was con­cerned, ev­ery­thing would be the same. We would have the par­ties, the singing, ev­ery­thing would be great. My mother went back to see him Dec. 30. He told her at 10 o’clock in the morn­ing he had been in­jected with some­thing that made him very, very sick. He died in her arms Tues­day, Dec. 30, 1941, at 2 p.m.”

The same fate, on the same time­line, hap­pened to her un­cle at a dif­fer­ent camp near Paris.

“We fi­nally found out they were mur­dered,” Miller said. “They were the first Jews to be ex­per­i­mented on un­der the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion. They were in­jected with gas.”

The fol­low­ing sum­mer, Miller’s mother sent her out of Paris to a farm in the coun­try. She was told her name was now “Chris­tine,” and she was not al­lowed to say she was Jewish.

“It was ex­actly what I wanted it to be,” she said. “Kids were play­ing. They were singing. They were danc­ing. I was happy for a day and a half. A day and a half later some kids came up and started to talk about this big raid they were go­ing to have to pick up all the Jews. I be­came very fright­ened.”

Miller said her sis­ter, Sabine, was sup­posed to go with her to the coun­try. Sabine’s birth­day was July 15 and their aunt promised Sabine a hand­bag, but she had to go to Paris to re­ceive it. In­stead, Miller went with her best friend Ce­cile, who was not Jewish.

On July 18, Miller went to the bus to meet Sabine, who was sup­posed to come and bring Miller’s doll, but it was Ce­cile’s mother who came off the bus. Sabine was nowhere to be seen.

After not be­ing told where Sabine was, Miller threat­ened to run away to Paris to find her. Ce­cile’s mom told her on July 16 the Ger­mans picked up her mother, her two broth­ers and her sis­ter.

“I was very an­gry at my mother,” Miller said. “Why didn’t she keep me with her? She didn’t love me. She sent me away. It took me a long time to re­al­ize that my mother loved me very, very much. It must have been a very dif­fi­cult thing for her to do to send her child away, not know­ing if she was ever go­ing to see her again or not.”

Miller even­tu­ally found out the fate of those taken that day. When the war was over, she was hop­ing for them to come home, but they never did. It wasn’t un­til after the fall of the Ber­lin Wall when the In­ter­na­tional Red Cross ob­tained Ger­man records from the Auschwitz con­cen­tra­tion camp that she learned the hor­ri­ble truth.

Upon ar­rival at the camp, those fit were forced into la­bor. Those not able to work were gassed and cre­mated. Her mother and sis­ter were gassed upon ar­rival. Her broth­ers were forced into la­bor, but after sur­viv­ing on only 180 calo­ries a day while work­ing from 6 a.m. un­til 10 p.m., both died a short time later.

While Miller was in hid­ing at the farm, the Ger­mans is­sued an edict that any­one har­bor­ing a Jew would get paid 300 Francs if they would turn the Jew in. The farmer wrote Miller’s aunt and asked what to do. Her aunt sent the farmer the 300 Francs.

“As a re­sult, I was saved twice,” Miller said. “Once by my mother and once by this farmer whose name I don’t re­mem­ber, but bless her soul.”

Miller’s aunt even­tu­ally said it was safe for Miller to come back to Paris. But times were hard. Miller had to wear the star that said “Jew.” Food was scarce. They had horse meat twice or three times a week, with black pota­toes and black bread.

“Ev­ery­thing was black,” Miller said. “Any­thing you imag­ine was black. I don’t know how they man­u­fac­tured it or grew it, but ev­ery­thing was black. The good thing was it was food. I am not re­ally com­plain­ing; some peo­ple did not have any. I am just telling you what it was like.”

After suf­fer­ing through the du­ra­tion of the war, at times in rat-in­fested cel­lars hid­ing from Nazis, at a con­vent and, fi­nally, at an or­phan­age, Miller’s per­ilous jour­ney to the United States be­gan.

While at the or­phan­age, three Amer­i­can sol­diers saw her and wanted to bring her to the United States. The one she chose mo­lested her when she was 11 ½ years old. Once in the United States, she was again mo­lested by the sol­dier, but the wife found out and Miller was kicked out of the house.

She was then placed in five dif­fer­ent fos­ter homes be­fore she met her fu­ture hus­band and got mar­ried.

The cou­ple was mar­ried for 37½ years be­fore he died in 1997. They had three chil­dren, one who died of AIDS on Dec. 23, 1992. All three of the chil­dren be­came lawyers.

“De­cem­ber is a very bad month for me,” Miller said. “My fa­ther died Dec. 30. My hus­band died the same day my fa­ther died, and my son died on Dec. 23.”

Miller’s ap­pear­ance was ar­ranged by Lo­gan Grab, an English teacher at MCHS. Grab said she had been look­ing for a Holo­caust sur­vivor to speak for sev­eral years.

“Ninth-grade English classes at McDon­ald County High School read a book called ‘Night’ by El­lie Wiesel, who is a Holo­caust sur­vivor,” Grab said. “That was where I drew my in­spi­ra­tion. One of my for­mer class­mates at Mis­souri South­ern told me Rachel would be speak­ing on Wed­nes­day night in Purdy back in March. I told my hus­band we had to go and we did. After hear­ing Rachel speak, I knew she was the per­fect per­son for our stu­dents. Our stu­dents needed to hear her story.”

The event was spon­sored by the McDon­ald County Schools Foun­da­tion.

Dur­ing her hour-long talk, Miller was joined by a doll sit­ting qui­etly in a chair on the stage. She never ref­er­enced it un­til a ques­tion from a stu­dent after she had fin­ished.

Miller said she was on a trip to Paris with a woman who wrote a play about her life and her son.

“We went to see where I lived and to the park where I played,” Miller said. “At the end of the day, we went to the flea mar­ket and I bought my­self a doll. This is the doll I bought. She was in a box. A friend of mine was hav­ing a party and said for me to bring the doll. When she looked at it, she said, ‘What a pretty doll.’ I took her out of the box and she looked at the tag. The doll’s name was Chris­tine Ce­cile.”


Rachel Miller holds her doll, Chris­tine Ce­cile, while speak­ing Tues­day at McDon­ald County High School on her ex­pe­ri­ences as a Holo­caust sur­vivor.


Holo­caust sur­vivor Rachel Miller an­swers ques­tions from stu­dents at McDon­ald County High School fol­low­ing her pre­sen­ta­tion re­gard­ing her ex­pe­ri­ences dur­ing the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion of France.

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