Rachel Goldman Miller was just a child when her life became upended in the horrors of the Holocaust.
Born in 1933, she had a happy life as a girl in Paris with her family until the Nazis invaded France in 1940, when she was 7 years old.
“When I saw them, I was terrified,” she said of the German soldiers she saw marching through the streets. “They frightened me. There were no robots in those days, but they were robots.”
Her parents knew their family wasn’t safe, and her mother forbade her from telling anyone she was Jewish. The fears were well-founded; soon, her father was detained and killed, a victim of German medical experiments.
It was just the first of many losses Miller would suffer. By the time the war was over, 93 members of her family would be dead, including both her parents, her sister and two brothers.
Miller, who emigrated to the United States in 1946, will share her story Sunday at Coe College during the annual Community Yom Hashoah Service. Hosted by the Thaler Holocaust Remembrance Fund, the interfaith service is open to the public and is held each April in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day. The Thaler fund also has scheduled appearances Monday for Miller at Mount Mercy University and Tuesday at Kirkwood Community College and Cornell College.
Miller, 85, said one reason it is important to share her story is that in the past she has come across Holocaust deniers, including children she believes were repeating what they had heard at home.
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“I want people to know it happened, that this is not a myth,” she told The Gazette, speaking by phone from her home in Chesterfield, Mo., outside St. Louis. “I don’t argue with (deniers) because people believe what they want to believe ... All I can say is, I’m a survivor, and I lost my whole family.”
She said the positive responses she receives from people far outweigh the negative ones.
“I have a drawer full of letters, from a lot of young people. They write that they will always make sure they will tell people about the Holocaust. When they do that, I feel I have connected with the young people,” she said.
Her father, Nathan Goldman, was a barber; her mother, Helen, a housewife. Before the war, they had moved to Paris from Warsaw, Poland, to be nearer family living in France.
“We were a very, very loving family. We enjoyed each other and we celebrated every Saturday night, and it was wonderful,” Miller said. “It was good for some years, until the German occupation. That’s when the horrors started.”
After her father was taken away, her mother decided to send her daughters to live in the countryside with a Catholic family. To hide her identity on the farm, Miller was told to change her name from Rachel to Christine.
Her older sister Sabine was supposed to go with her, but stayed behind in Paris a few extra days. The delay proved fatal — she never showed up on the farm and it was decades before Miller knew what had happened to her. In 2004 she got confirmation of her sister’s death in the gas chambers of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“My sister was my idol. I miss her still,” Miller said. “When people say they don’t talk to their brothers or sisters, I take a step back. I can’t even imagine.”
After the war ended, Miller spent time in an orphanage before coming to the United States. She later married and raised two sons, one of whom has since died.
She said she tells her story in honor of her family.
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“I speak to keep my family alive,” she said. “And, secondly, I speak because I’m telling my story, which is really history.”
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If you go
• What: Community Yom Hashoah Service
• When: 7:30 p.m. Sunday
• Where: Coe College, Sinclair Auditorium, 1220 First Ave. NE, Cedar Rapids
• Rachel Goldman Miller also will speak at 7 p.m. Monday at Mount Mercy University, Chapel of Mercy, 1330 Elmhurst Drive NE, Cedar Rapids; at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday at Kirkwood Community College, Ballantyne Auditorium, 6301 Kirkwood Blvd. SW, Cedar Rapids; and at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cornell College, Thomas Commons, 600 First St. SW, Mount Vernon