Winfield High School students sat silently, giving Rachel Miller their complete attention as she unveiled her past experiences. Miller is a Holocaust survivor and had a great story to tell as she explained her journey to the United States and how she got to where she is today. Today, she has family, friends and a support system that she can count on, but when she was a young girl she learned that she was alone and didn’t make friends since she didn’t know how long they would be there.
Miller’s mother sent her to a camp in the country to live on a farm and to keep her identity safe. She went by the name Christine to pass as a Catholic child. Just a few days after she left to go to the country, a trip she thought was just for fun, her whole family was taken to holding camps in France and eventually were deported at different times in 1942 to Auschwitz in Poland. Her sister Sabine was supposed to follow her to the camp a few days after she left, but she never showed up. She later found out that her brothers; sister and mother had passed away in concentration camps. Her father and uncle were taken before she left for the country and were forced to be part of an experiment that was held. The soldiers injected gas into their systems just days before they were told they were to be released. This caused them to become very ill and soon pass. Miller lived most of her time with her aunt Rose where she raised herself until entering an orphanage.
In 1945, Miller was taken from an orphanage in Paris by a soldier and brought over to the United States where she was moved between five different orphanages. “Many Jewish children were brought to the United States by soldier, it wasn’t uncommon,” said Miller. She moved many times, soon meeting her husband and getting married.
Miller visited Auschwitz concentration camp where her mother, Helen; her sister, Sabine; and her brothers, Henry and Adolphe died. She learned many things about how the camps were performed. “They would have a Jewish orchestra play classical music as people entered the gas chamber, which they called a spa. They told everyone they were going to get showers and played that game until they entered the chambers,” Miller said. She also visited Israel per her husband’s wishes. Miller had a fantasy that her sister escaped from the concentration camp and made it to Israel but had amnesia so she never returned home. Miller finally faced the truth that her sister was gone when the plane landed in Isreal. “I love to travel, but I didn’t want to go there. I wanted to keep her alive.” By the end of the Holocaust, Miller had lost 93 family members.
Miller can remember family gatherings of singing on Saturday nights and eating dinner together. Everyone lived within walking distance and they had a very close bond. She was closest with her sister, Sabine, who she looked up to. She has many of her family photos that were saved from a soldier raid to remember her loved ones. “I tell my story to keep my family alive,” Miller explained.