From Student Life 

‘Don’t be bystanders’: Holocaust survivor Rachel Miller shares her story

Jaden Satenstein | Senior Scene Editor April 7, 2019

If you ask Chesterfield, Missouri, resident and Holocaust survivor Rachel Miller what to do when confronting those who continue to deny the genocide of the Holocaust, she will give you a very simple answer.

“People that believe something, you cannot change their mind. You cannot. The only thing you can say is, ‘I met a survivor,’ and walk away.”

Members of the Washington University community who heard Miller speak on campus on Thursday, April 4, can now take that advice. The event was organized by the Chabad Student Association as part of its annual ‘Never Again’ Speaker Series, which brings a Holocaust survivor to campus each year.

“By hearing these stories I think we can continue to learn from the past, keep their stories alive and ensure that history does not repeat itself,” freshman Holocaust Remembrance Chair Zachary Milewicz, who helped organize the event and is the grandchild of two Holocaust survivors, said.

Miller was born in Paris in 1933 to Polish immigrants. She described her childhood as incredibly happy and loving. That is, before September 1, 1939, when Germany invaded Poland, which she heard her father refer to as, “the beginning of doom.”

From that moment on, Miller recalled living in constant fear. In 1942, at nine years old, Miller was sent to the French countryside with her friend Cecile to live with a farmer under the guise of being Catholic, taking on the name “Christine.”

Miller’s sister, Sabine, was set to join her soon, as she was staying in Paris for a few extra days to wait for her aunt to give her a handbag she promised her for her birthday. The day after Miller left for the countryside, her entire immediate family was taken into custody by the Nazis during a raid, including Sabine. They all eventually died at Auschwitz.

Miller later discovered that a total of 93 of her relatives were murdered in the Holocaust.

She spent the rest of the war in hiding with her aunt in Paris. When she returned to the city, she was able to retrieve photos from her old home, making her one of the few Holocaust survivors to have photos of family members from before the war.

At 13 years old, Miller was taken to the United States by an American soldier who constantly molested her. She was eventually thrown out of his home and lived in multiple foster homes in New York City until she married.

Miller’s story had a powerful effect on student attendees, who followed her into the hall after the event to continue hearing about her life and perspective.

“I found her story to be strongly impactful, and I was impressed with the student turnout,” Milewicz said. “I think many students left the event having taken a lot away and with strength in commitment to ‘Never Again,’ which was ultimately our goal.”

Rabbi Hershey Novack from Chabad on Campus emphasized the importance of hosting events such as the ‘Never Again’ Speaker Series to continue to raise awareness of the tragedies of the Holocaust and the lessons that can be learned from survivors’ stories.

“Rachel Miller is one of the last big handful of survivors who are with us who live in St. Louis,” Novack said. “I think that it is a sacred duty to ensure that their stories are told in the first person every day, every year.”

In a conversation with Student Life following the event, Miller noted that much of the discrimination that she and her family faced is still alive today.

“Elie Wiesel said ‘Never again,’ but unfortunately that’s not true,” Miller said. “It’s still happening in many countries, and anti-Semitism is running rampant in the United States now.”

In response to this hate, Miller expressed the importance of respect and fighting for what is right, no matter the cost, a lesson she learned from her late family and all those who lost their lives resisting Nazi genocide.

“I think God created all of us, and God created Earth to be different, so we must respect our diversity, and I think respect is more important than love,” Miller said. “And it starts by respecting yourself. If you respect yourself, you’re going to respect other people. And that’s what I think it should be. And you have to stand up for whatever you think is wrong. Don’t be bystanders.”