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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:                       MIRIAM MOTYL FISHKIN (1930-   )

INTERVIEWER:                    SARA GHITIS

                                            RUTH EINSTEIN

LOCATION:                           ATLANTA, GEORGIA

DATE:                                   DECEMBER 8, 2010

             DECEMBER 14, 2010

ID#:                                       OHC10201

NUMBER OF PAGES:            52

Transcript (PDF)


Miriam Motyl was born on November 10, 1930 in Pruzhany, Poland (now Belarus).  Her mother was Bluma Talmo and her father was Mayer Motyl.  He was originally from Gostynin, Poland.  Miriam had a twin sister, Riva and an older sister, Esther.  Mayer was an accountant and they had an upper-class life style, with servants.  The family was largely secular although they celebrated the High Holy Days and other Jewish holidays such as Passover.  They were Zionists.  Her father had fought for Poland in World War I.  Miriam went to a Polish school and had non-Jewish friends.

In 1939 Russia took over control of the town as their payment for allowing Germany to invade Poland without living up to its treaty obligations to defend Poland.  Her father’s family fled Gostynin, which was occupied by the Germans, and came to live with them until the Russians deported the newer arrivals to Siberia.  Miriam continued her education in Russian schools, where she had to join the Komsomol, a Russian Communist youth organization.

During the Russian occupation, the family struggled and her father went into hiding.  On June 20, 1941 the Soviets deported Bluma, Esther, Miriam and Riva to Siberia.  The KGB gave them only minutes to pack and report to the train.  Fortunately, they took with them their heavy sheepskin coats which proved invaluable in Siberia.  Although their deportation was a cruel and devastating experience, the result was ultimately fortunate because the family was already two day’s travel east into the Soviet Union when the Germans invaded eastern Poland and the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941.  Thus, they did not suffer the fate of the Jews still in Pruzhany when the Germans arrived.  The journey on the train lasted one month.  The cars had bunks on the side, a toilet facility, no running water and they shared the car with other families.  They did not know it at the time but her father fell into German hands and eventually died of dysentery in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When they arrived in Novosibirsk in Siberia they were dumped off the train and left in a field for two days, after which they were sent to Togur, a little village with a saw mill. While they waited in the field, Esther met her future husband, Yankel, a yeshiva student, who ended up in another location although they kept in communication until after the war when they were married.  In Togur the whole family was lodged in a little hut with another family and worked in the saw mill carrying wood and other heavy labor.  Bluma spoke Russian so she was able to communicate with the local women, with whom she was able to barter for additional food.  They were in Togur for about 2-1/2 years until they were sent to the Caucasus where they worked on Soviet communal farms.

In May 1945 the family returned to Poland, to Lodz.  Miriam and Riva worked on a kibbutz for the Mizrachi organization in anticipation of going to Israel.  Esther and her husband went on to Prague in ex-Czechoslovakia, to Paris, France and then were sponsored for entry into the United States.  Miriam prepared to go to Palestine but since was still under the control of Great Britain, Miriam, Riva and Bluma moved to the United States and joined Esther and her husband in New York City.

Miriam attended night school to learn English and began work in a factory making children’s clothing.  She socialized at night going to dances, where her sister Riva met her husband.  Miriam also married and she and her husband operated a shoe store.  The couple had two children: Sonia and David.  She moved to Atlanta in 1996 to escape the northern climate.  Miriam now speaks to school children at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum.


Miriam discusses her childhood in Pruzhany, Poland until the war started in 1939 and the Russians occupied her town.  She recalls celebrating the Sabbath, Jewish holidays and festivals, especially Passover, which she recalls fondly.  She remembers going to a non-Jewish school and socializing with non-Jewish friends, including a girl whose father was a Russian Orthodox priest.

She recalls how when the war started her family home became filled with family members from in other parts of Poland who fled to what they perceived was a better atmosphere than living under Germany tyranny.  Miriam discusses how her life changed under Soviet control when she had to go to a Russian school, learn the Russian language and show her enthusiasm for Communism by joining a Soviet girls’ organization.  She remembers that there was a scarcity of food.  Miriam recounts how the KGB turned up at her home, and gave the her mother, Miriam and her sisters a few minutes to get ready because they were being sent to the East.  Miriam remembers that when they were two days into the eastern territories the Germans invaded the Soviet Union and Pruzhany fell into German hands and how, in retrospect, the at-the-time terrible experience of deportation ultimately saved their lives.

Miriam recalls the month-long journey deep into Siberia where they were finally settled in a little town called Togur, in which there was a saw mill.  There the older members of her family worked.  She recollections the difficulty of the life, the climate, the work, the scarcities and how her mother, who could speak fluent Russian, supplemented their scarce food by bartering for food.   They were there for 2-1/2 years, then they were sent to the Caucusus where they worked on communal farms.  Miriam recalls that they were put to work in the fields, which allowed them to find a little extra food while they worked.

In 1945, Miriam recalls how she, her mother and sisters returned to Poland, going to Lodz and how Esther married a young yeshiva student she had met in Siberia.   She recounts their travels across Europe, her desire to go to Palestine, but how she and her mother and sisters instead joined Esther and her husband, who had come to New York in the United States.  Miriam recalls her life in the New York: finding work, socializing, meeting and marrying her husband, raising a family, running a business and eventually re-settling in Atlanta nearer her children.






Auschwitz-Birkenau (Death camps: Poland)


Bielski brothers

Brooklyn, New York



Clothing industry and trade

Czech Republic (ex-Czechoslovakia)

Dablice, (ex-Czechoslovakia)

Death camps: Poland



Fishkin, David

Fishkin, Miriam Moytl

Flight and hiding

Gostynin, Poland


High holy days

Holocaust, Jewish (1939-1945)

Holocaust survivors



Jewish-Christian Relations

Jewish brigade

Judaism—Fasts and feasts





Kolpashevo, Siberia

Lodz, Poland

Lumber mills


Motyl, Bluma Talmo

Motyl, Mayer

New York City, New York

Novosibirsk, Siberia

Occupation, Soviet Union




Polish language

Prague, (ex-Czechoslovakia)

Pruzhany, Poland (now Belarus)

Refugees, Jewish

Rosh Ha-Shanah

Russian language




Shoe industry and trade

Siberia, Russia

Soldiers, Jewish

Soviet occupation, Poland


Strasbourg, France


Togur, Siberia

World War, 1939-1945

Yom Kippur


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