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Born in Tshernovitz, Romania, Erica Miller was only seven years old when the Nazis forced her and her family into a holding camp in the Ukraine, where they remained for four harrowing years before being liberated. But their relief was cut short when they returned to their home and found it occupied by Russians. Only when her family immigrated to Israel was the author given the chance to escape the horrors of oppression and begin a new chapter in her life.
Facing obstacles most of us would find insurmountable, the author served in the Israeli Air Force, a rarity for women at the time, and then went on to earn a PhD in clinical psychology in America. As a dedicated mental health professional, Dr. Miller founded a chain of clinics that have helped hundreds of patients heal.
A story of hardship, perseverance, and ultimate victory, Thanks for My Journey also includes a special section where Dr. Miller shares her inspirational reflections on such topics as being Jewish, gender roles, and the power in being true to oneself.
|Publisher:||Emerald Book Company|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)|
About the Author
Between the ages of seven and eleven, Erica Miller and her family lived in a Nazi holding camp in the Ukraine. After resettling in Israel, she served in the Israeli Air Force and worked for the Israeli Government Tourist Office. She has a PhD in clinical psychology and developed a chain of mental health clinics in California, which she continues to direct. She also runs a real estate management company with her husband in Austin, Texas.
Read an Excerpt
THANKS FOR MY JOURNEYA HOLOCAUST SURVIVOR'S STORY OF LIVING FEARLESSLY
By ERICA MILLER
Emerald Book CompanyCopyright © 2012 Erica Miller, Ph.D.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneA TRAGICALLY BRIEF CHILDHOOD
German is my mother tongue, and Rumania is my birthplace, but I had to leave both behind quite early in life.
I was born on November 10, 1933, in Tshernovitz, Bukovina, a province in Rumania. The area had been part of Austria when my parents were young; hence my mother tongue was German. Later it became Rumania, then Moldavia, and now it is part of Ukraine. I had one sister, Judith, or Dita, as we called her. She was four and a half years older than I.
My father, Emmanuel Gelber (Mendy), son of Eta and Julius Gelber, was a tall, handsome man, popular with the ladies. He was smart, well read, and artistic. He cut quite a figure strolling down the Morgenbessergasse, the narrow street leading to our home. My mother's older brother, Oskar, said to my father one day, "Mendel, you are going to marry my sister, Fani. She's a virgin and you'll get a big trousseau." So Mendel married Fani Turkfeld, a rich girl who was smart but uneducated. It was time for her to marry. She was already pushing twenty, which was considered old for marriage at that time.
According to my mother, the marriage was a good one for a few years, until my father started to fool around. According to my father, my mother had a vivid imagination and the marriage was fine. What I think and what I know is that they were mismatched but did the best they could. By my standards, they had a loveless, yet functional, relationship.
We had family dinners, holidays, and vacations together. As a child, I never witnessed abuse or disrespect between my parents. They took care of each other and us. We were a family!
Three of my grandparents died before I was born. The only one I knew was my father's mother, Eta Gelber, and by the time I was born, she was deaf and blind and in her eighties. When we visited her on Sundays, she was invariably lying in bed, gray and nearly immobile with vacant milky eyes and a musty smell from aging organs. She would reach out and touch me to "see" who was there. To say I hated those weekly visits is an understatement. She died when I was about four years old.
My father's father, Julius Gelber, was a teacher, which was unusual at that time. Most people were uneducated, and many were merchants. It was prestigious to be a teacher. I don't know exactly what he taught—probably the Talmud or some other Jewish subject. The family had no money but combined a deep love for learning with a persistent motivation to get ahead. My determination to attain an education, my intense interest in seeking knowledge and academia must have come through my father's side.
My mother's parents, Yetta and Samuel Turkfeld, were uneducated, yet they made a good living from their owner-operated steel factory. Owning your own business, especially in a line of blue-collar work, was unheard of for Jews of that era. My aptitude and interest in seeking out entrepreneurial business ventures definitely were transmitted to me from my mother's genetic pool of traits.
I view the legacy of my forty-six chromosomes as precious ancestral treasures gifted to me, only me, and no other. What a humbling thought it is to be uniquely woven in as part of a never-ending chain of links to my past and future.
The family steel business was on the first floor, and my aunts, uncles, cousins, and our family lived on the second. I remember sneaking into the work area of the factory (as children we were prohibited from going there) and walking down the narrow aisle. I could hear the grind of the welding and see the sparks flying as the steel was being foundered. I dared to disobey. My curiosity superseded the potential consequences. I liked the rush and excitement I felt pushing through the doors close to me. Warnings and punishments by my elders failed to rein in my adventurous nature. I walked to the beat of my own drums. I still do.
My grandfather, Sam, ran the factory with three of his sons, and my grandmother, Yetta, was doing what women were supposed to do: remain barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen, cooking and cleaning.
My grandmother was a short, skinny, hardworking, serious woman. She never smiled. I assume she did not have a muscle to spare. She was probably overworked and underappreciated. Twelve kids and a husband—can you imagine that? I can't.
Among her many children, Yetta's firstborn daughter, Gusta, married young and moved to South America, leaving Fani (my mother), the only other girl, to help Yetta care for the men and the household.
When my mother was born, there was little room for her in the house, so they put her cradle under the table. In many ways, Fani never completely got out from under the narrow and limited space of her lifelong existence. She was always just an extension of everyone else.
Fani was allowed to attend school just on Saturdays, since she was the only girl left to help her mother with chores. Week in, week out, every Saturday, dressed in her one and only dress, Fani went to school with trepidation. The kids would point a finger at her and laugh, "It must be Saturday. Here comes Fani, always wearing the same dress."
In spite of the humiliation and mockery from her peers, Fani feasted off the crumbs of education as best she could. Throughout her life, she remained hungry for knowledge and embarrassed by her scribbled handwriting and her limited literacy.
Unfortunately for her, she was a prisoner of her times. She never evolved. She was not able to push the envelope, whereas I was able to break through and go beyond the traditional narrow-mindedness of gender limitation.
"Are you proud of me, Mama? I did what you couldn't do for both of us!"
"Don't tell me that because I'm a girl, I cannot climb a tree or swim in the sea like the boys do. Don't tell me that because I'm a woman I cannot have a family and a thriving career as well. Don't tell me to rein in my adventurous nature because I'm a woman.
"Mama, do you hear me? Are you proud of me?"
Praise from my mother, no matter how hard I tried and how much I deserved it, would never reach my hungry ears. Yet, I know she loved me; she loved me very much. I did not know it then, but I knew it later.
My mother never received affection from her mother, who perhaps was just too busy to show any. In turn, my mother was not demonstrative at all to her husband or daughters. I used to beg my mother for affection. "Mama, please give me a kiss. Give me a hug." But she'd shoo me away, saying she was busy. I would persist, "Mama, did I do anything wrong?" She'd turn away: "No, no, go away." She was not a person of many words. She was shy and inhibited.
On the other hand, Papa was affectionate. He was also emotional and had a temper, a trait I share. But when an outburst was over, it was over. He did not carry a grudge. I wish I could say the same about my mother. She was weighted down by a deep barrel of grudges that never saw the light of day. Her silence spoke volumes.
My father was a self-proclaimed artist and poet. As far back as I remember, he always doodled. I have some of his paintings proudly displayed in my home. He used to write poetry as well. He was often the life of the party; everybody liked him. He was articulate, handsome, and always immaculately dressed. My mother, on the other hand, though good-looking, paid little attention to her appearance and grooming. In addition to her quietness, she barely spoke the language of the land—whether Rumanian, Hebrew, or English. She spoke only German. She expressed herself through her children. I was always proud of my father and embarrassed by my mother.
In retrospect, I can see that my father was a flawed person and my mother was a model of kindness, loyalty, and devotion to her family. My strong attachment to my children mimics hers. However, unlike my mother and luckily for my children, although I love being with them, I have a full and exciting life apart from them as well.
Early in their marriage, Papa was attentive to Mama. He shared his day at work and read newspapers to her to keep her informed. When Papa got tired of the one-sided communication and stopped sharing his life with her, she felt abandoned and very lonely.
Eventually, the marriage deteriorated. Papa kept growing, and she stayed under the table, just as her cradle had been when she was an infant. She would watch his every move and accuse him of straying. He couldn't go out and buy a pack of cigarettes without her following him. The honeymoon was definitely over.
I was seven years old when my world as I knew it fell apart. It was 1941. German soldiers were everywhere. Something scary was going on, but I did not know what. My memories from before that point are scant—bits and pieces here and there.
The trauma of my war experiences impaired my memory of events not only before but also during and in the years after that horrific time. Some of my recollections from before the war were that of a good life. We used to get dressed up and go for a walk on the Herrengasse (a famous street in Tshernovitz) to the park every Sunday—Papa, Mama, Dita, and I. We have a photo of us strolling along the "gasse." I vaguely remember going to the beach on the Prut River and having fun. The factory building, which was my home during my early childhood in the late 1930s, was like a compound. Each of the Turkfeld siblings and their families had a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor of the factory. There was a kitchen/sitting room and the bedroom that my parents shared with my sister and me.
Among all my extended family who shared our home, my most memorable and favorite aunt was Aunt Olga, who was always baking cookies. Uncle Oskar brought her home from his travels during World War I. She was born Christian. She had left her family behind, embraced Judaism, and became a devout Jew. She scrupulously observed all the dietary laws and prepared all the holiday meals for the whole Turkfeld clan. Unimaginably and unforgivably, she was referred to as the "Goya" (a term that can be used derogatorily for a non-Jewish individual) by some members of our family until the end of her gracious life. Prejudice is, and will always remain, an incurable disease of the feeble-minded.
My five cousins who lived in our compound were an important part of my early life. We had such fun playing games in the backyard. A beautiful lilac tree grew there. Those were happy times, and I loved that tree. I grow lilac bushes in my own yard in Southern California, and to this day, their sweet scent takes me right back to that idyllic time before the war when I would play with my cousins. Even though my lilacs are not as fragrant as the tree I remember, they are still beautiful and cherished.
My sister had an issue with food. She was chubby, and our mother would hide food from her. I, on the other hand, was very skinny, and my mother would try to feed me like a goose. She used to hold me down, pinch my nose closed, and push food into my throat like they did with geese to fatten them up for the holidays. I would rebel, struggling against her and shouting, "Don't make me!" She would ignore me and continue to push food into my throat. The way I got even and fought back was by being contrary, ignoring her, and misbehaving at any opportunity I had, and there were many.
My mother couldn't get by with spanking me because I learned to hold my breath until I turned blue. Instead, she pinched me. It really hurt, but I was not about to cry! I showed her!
Only once do I remember my father hitting me on the behind, although I don't remember exactly what I did. I had a big mouth and probably said something I shouldn't have. When my father scolded me, I taunted him, "Go ahead. Hit me all you want. I won't cry." He continued to hit me— I had black and blue bruises for some time—but I waited until he left the room and then I cried in private. I'm still like that. When there's a trauma, I do whatever has to be done, detached and purposeful. Then, after the crisis is over, I allow myself to be vulnerable, shake some, and move on.
My mother was fair-skinned and blond, as were my sister and all of my cousins. My complexion was dark, like my father's. There were a lot of Gypsies in Rumania. People used to tease me that I did not really belong to my family, that I fell off a Gypsy wagon, and my parents picked me up and took me in. They called me Zigeunerin, Gypsy girl.
I always felt different. There was no one who looked like me in the family. I still feel unconnected and separate—walking to the beat of my own drummer, with or without the approval of those close to me.
Dita recalls that our mother used to take her for strolls through the neighborhood but would leave me behind with the maid because I was ugly. I always wanted to be told that I was pretty. Although I don't remember my mother's words, I understood that my sister was the pretty one and I was the smart but unattractive one. As a child and adolescent, it seemed to me that rather than rely on my looks, I would have to prove myself through education—and I did. But first, I had to survive a war.
Chapter TwoNAZI HORRORS
"I believed I could not survive this, and I indeed survived, but do not ask me how." —An unknown German poet, quoted in Papa's journal
TO THE CATTLE CARS
By the time I was six, the political situation in Bukovina had deteriorated into chaos. Rumania had signed a trade agreement with Germany in 1939, followed by several more treaties that placed Rumania under heavy Third Reich influence. Germany ceded parts of Bukovina to the Soviet Union and Bulgaria. Rumania was declared a "National Legionary State," and democracy essentially disappeared. In that chaos, the right-wing Iron Guard tried to seize power but was defeated. By 1940, Germany had gained more and more influence, and a special intelligence unit began to suppress all dissent. That was the beginning of a policy of persecution and extermination of Jews.
Being hunted like animals is an indelible memory for me. The systematic deportation and extermination of Jews had begun. We were not spared! One day, the Germans came to our factory unannounced as part of their relentless search in pursuit of prey. I distinctly remember Papa and Mama hurrying us up to the attic of the factory.
There were many of us crammed into the small space of the attic, all huddled together in the dark on the prickly hay. We heard the German soldiers with their menacing, barking dogs coming up the stairs, closer and closer. My father's breathing sounded loud and heavy. I sensed his panic. My mother put her hand over my mouth so I would not scream. I was so frightened. I couldn't breathe. My parents knew that if we were found, we would be beaten, herded together, forced into boxcars on the train, or shot.
Much later in my life, here in Los Angeles, a friend who was studying to be a cosmetologist suggested giving me a facial. She put a mud mask on my face, and suddenly I felt constricted, out of control. I had a flashback to the attic and my mother's hand over my mouth. I tried to calm myself: "You are not a child; you are not in danger; you are safe; you are OK." But to my consternation, I couldn't calm myself. I started to panic. I began to hyperventilate. I called to my friend, "Eva, Eva, get this mask off of me. Get it off me!" Quickly she washed it off. Amazing! My adult reassuring thoughts and cognitive abilities did not hold up in the face of my traumatic flashback.
Whenever we were given a heads-up that the Germans were coming, we repeated the same hiding routine. It happened numerous times. I did not understand what was happening—the grim faces and whispers, "Germans, Jewish ..." We are Jewish. We have to hide. No one tells me what is going on.
"Mama, why do we have to hide again? Mama, Mama!"
"Stop it, Erica, stop with the questions," she said.
"But Mama, I don't want to be Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Jewish, Mama!"
"For the last time, stop it," she repeated.
"Papa, Papa!" There was no explanation from him either. He did not hear me. He looked through me. I was invisible. I had never seen him like this before. The stress was getting to him. He was falling to pieces in front of my eyes. He could not handle the anxiety of wondering and waiting. He felt humiliated having to crouch in corners like a hunted animal.
He finally declared, "I cannot tolerate this any longer. We will go voluntarily to the trains rather than hide and wait to be captured." He was either completely nuts or incredibly courageous. I can only imagine how difficult it had to be for him to make that decision.
From Papa's Journal:
Because I worked for the Russians from May 1940 to July 1941, I was put on the "blacklist." A former Christian colleague and friend warned me to quickly disappear. Hearing that the Gestapo was after me, I decided that being de ported was the safer way to go. If we continued to hide, it was only a matter of time.
Excerpted from THANKS FOR MY JOURNEY by ERICA MILLER Copyright © 2012 by Erica Miller, Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Emerald Book Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
My Life Stages....................2
Part I: Rumania 1933–1949....................6
Part II: Israel 1949–1958....................50
Part III: America 1958....................92
Los Angeles, CA
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A compelling life story told candidly by Dr. Miller of living through the absolute worse of times, the Holocaust, and her struggles to have the life and successes she wanted. Book is straight forward and honest, and a life story you keep wanting to learn more about. By the end you feel as you know Erica as a good friend. Powerful non-fictional story. Thank you for sharing & let us say emphatically, "Never Again!" I highly recommend this book to anyone who's interested in reading a non-fictional book that's well-written, engaging, and refreshingly candid. While this book is based on a true, heart-wrenching childhood of a Holocaust survivor, it also highlights how Dr. Miller overcame adversities in her early years and accomplished amazing feats in her later years.