Millions of families were separated during the atrocities of the Holocaust. The countless young children who were able to escape Nazi Germany were left wondering what happened to their parents, siblings, and loved ones.
For most people, the answers would never come. After all, six million Jewish people alone (and more from other cultures) were systematically killed during this time, so the few that survived were lucky to have any family left.
So it’s no surprise that 81-year-old Holocaust survivor Miriam Shapiro spent most of her years attempting to learn the fate of her family. That’s when she stumbled across one photograph that changed her entire life…
Born in West Germany to a Jewish family, Miriam Shapiro lived with her parents, younger sister Edith, and older brother Otto in the early days of Nazi rule. Although she was just four years old, she remembered well the night she hid in her parents’ room during Kristallnacht, or the “Crystal Night.”
She recalled how the Nazis came into her home and took her parents and siblings while she hid under the bed in order to evade capture. After the invasion, she managed to connect with the Flux family, who helped shelter Jewish orphans during the war, and she went to live with them in Manchester, England.
Eventually, she learned that her mother had disappeared while at the Łódź ghetto (which most likely meant that she died), while her father, Jacob (below), died at Dachau concentration camp just three weeks before it was liberated.
The fate of her siblings, however, was unclear. For decades, Miriam searched for documentation related to Otto and Edith. It wasn’t until her 80th birthday that she discovered a photo of 12-year-old Otto from the Holocaust Museum in Amsterdam.
Accompanying the photo was a death certificate. It was confirmation that Otto had passed away in a monastery outside London that also served as a school for orphans. With this new information—and the help of English genealogists—Miriam finally got the news she had been seeking all her life: the location of her brother (or, rather, his grave).
With her two daughters by her side, Miriam finally decided to visit her deceased brother’s resting place in a Jewish cemetery located in a London suburb. There, she said a prayer for Otto. It was truly a somber moment.
Miriam’s visit to her brother’s grave was bittersweet, too—and that was all thanks to a man named Joey Flux. His parents had been the ones to look after Miriam during her youth in Manchester, England after she avoided Nazi capture.
Miriam had left England after the war, and Joey’s mother urged him not to forget the orphaned girl. Miriam and Joey’s reunion in the cemetery marked the first time that they had seen each other in 64 years.
With Joey at her side, Miriam placed four stones from Israel on Otto’s grave (as per Jewish custom); each stone represented one of her lost family members. “I had a right to close the circle and mourn the whole family,” she said.
Though the visit was painful, Miriam said she was grateful for the opportunity to bring closure to her family. She said, “I had a father and mother, brother and sister. Only I am left to tell the story to future generations.”
It should be noted, of course, that few of the Jews living in Europe at that time were as lucky as Miriam to be able to learn the fate of their loved ones. Even those who survived found their family members’ whereabouts to be a mystery.
Yet in the midst of all the horror that Miriam went through (or perhaps because of it), having the opportunity to learn exactly what happened to even one of her family members after the Holocaust came to an end must have been a relief.
Hopefully, Miriam’s story will help shine a light on how to be resilient and to find happiness while still never letting herself forget. Even through something as terrible as the Holocaust, Miriam proves that being strong—and living the life that her lost loved ones couldn’t—is the best way to honor them.
Txalapartari / Wikimedia Commons
It’s so wonderful that Miriam found the resolution that she so desperately needed. When light can be found in such darkness, hope remains.
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