Survivor STORY

Miriam (Manya) Morawieca Gerson was born in Lodz, Poland, in 1927. One of seven children, Miriam grew up in a traditional Jewish home. Miriam's father was a well-liked and respected businessman, who was also involved in philanthropic efforts within the Jewish community.

The Morawieca family was forced to move into the Lodz ghetto, where conditions grew more and more desperate. Miriam's father and three brothers died in the ghetto. When the ghetto was liquidated four years later, the remaining members of the family were taken in cattle cars to Auschwitz. Her mother, holding on to Miriam's younger brother, was sent to her death in the gas chamber. Miriam managed to stay with an older sister throughout the first selection. Miriam and her sister were eventually chosen to join a transport of workers for an ammunition factory, but when they got there, another group had already arrived to work, so the transport was taken to Bergen Belsen. Bergen Belsen was so crowded that the group was housed in tents that were set up. Miriam and her sister were assigned to forced labor.

Toward the end of the war, the girls were taken with a group on a march that eventually brought them to Dachau. There they worked in an ammunition factory until they were again transported on wagons and then a train, to stay ahead of advancing forces. The German guards abandoned the prisoners in the train, which was liberated by the Americans.

Miriam and her sister were taken to a hospital in Landsberg to recuperate. Only they and another sister survived the war. Miriam found out that her friend, Abe, from the Lodz ghetto was in the hospital at St. Otillia, and after a nursing school was established there, she applied and was accepted. Abe and Miriam were married, and when emigration papers were finalized with an affidavit from Abe's cousin in Atlanta, the Gersons left for America. After staying for some time with Abe's relatives in Columbus, Georgia, Abe and Miriam moved to Atlanta to stay with other Abe's uncle and aunt. Abe got a job and Miriam found work in Sunshine's Department Store. Miriam decided to stay home after the birth of their first child. The Gersons have two children and two grandchildren.

American Dream

Then I got sick and I went to the Landsberg hospital. I had a kidney problem. And when I got out of there my brother-in-law said, "You know what? She needs to be really checked out good. I have a friend that works in that office in St. Otillia. Let's go down there and see what's going on." I didn't go; they went to see my brother-in-law's friend. And when they were in that big hospital, she saw Abe. She saw my husband; they knew him. And when she came home, she told me, she said, "You'll never believe who I found down there. I found Abe. Abe asked me about you. He's skinny, walking with cane, barely walking, but the first thing he wanted to know is if you're alive, where you are. So I told him you're very much alive and you're with me." So, they made arrangements. We went down there, but they wouldn't accept me because I wasn't sick. They only accepted real, real, real sick people. But through this friend they managed to register me and I met up with Abe.

And then they opened up a school of nursing. So the head doctor -- we were going on as cousins for the longest time, he was my cousin, I was his cousin -- but the head doctor knew better. The head doctor came to me. He said, "I want you to..." (I guess here they would call it an essay) "write down whatever you know. Whatever you can on paper, education-wise, otherwise." They test your intelligence. I don't know, they had me through the mill, if I can be accepted to the school. Well, they accepted me to the school of nursing, and he was still a patient. So I went through the school of nursing, I started working on the floor. And that was the best time of my life, I guess.

Well, actually, that's why I mentioned that to me, America is a country of milk and honey, because it's in America that I've learned life. What the meaning of life, what life is all about. To me, family and tradition has become a way of life. So, yes I've changed my mind a lot, because having friends that you can turn to, having family that you can keep in touch with and day by day business, taking care of things that you have to take care of, gave me a booster in my life. I love to, even when my kids were home, I loved to dress up and go to the movies and take the kids with me. I don't care if I didn't get a break, per se, quote, from the kids. As a matter of fact, my children still remember when they were in college, or in high school, we had wall-to-wall kids in here all the time. I loved it! I lost my teenage stage, per se, lost it. So when my children became teenagers, I lived along with them, and I loved it!

Life Lessons and Perspectives

Did they change me during the war? Well I tell you one thing. It did change me a lot, because missing the things that I missed out on made me love life a little better. Makes me appreciate the small stuff that people take for granted. I always feel, you hear the story can be worse? I'm ready for the better. But being, coming from my background of the worse, no matter how bad it is, it can get worse, so we need to take it day by day and make every day count. I tell this to my children. Make every day count. We don't know what we wake up to. But handle it and go on about your business and take things at hand as necessary, and appreciate the good life. People that are born in the good life, I don't blame them, they don't know the bad, which is wonderful. But we need to learn to appreciate the good, because when you being taken away from the bosom of your family at a young age, you kind of feel, is this how it's supposed to be? In human life? I mean, birds fly away, but people stick together.

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Miriam Morawieca Gerson