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April 23, 2020 7:17 am

A Holocaust Story of Leadership, Resilience and Survival

avatar by Heather Robinson / JNS.org

Opinion

Mira Rosenblatt. Photo: JNS.

JNS.orgMira Rosenblatt will never forget August 12, 1942. On that day, the teenager was among the 30,000 Jews living in the Sosnowiec Ghetto in Poland who were rounded up by the Nazis and herded into the industrial city’s stadium.

She was separated from her parents and three of her siblings, and segregated into a group deemed strong enough to work.

On Yom Hashoah 2020, Mira, now 96, remains haunted by those events more than three-quarters of a century ago. In her apartment in Brooklyn, New York, she recounted the harrowing experience.

“Nothing is easy,” says Mira. “I want people to know about the things that happened.”

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In the sea of detainees packing Sosnowiec’s arena, Mira somehow made her way back to her family. As a family, they decided that she would take her siblings and attempt to blend them in among those fit for labor.

As they were being marched forward, she pushed her three siblings — older sister Vida Malka, younger sister Etusha, and brother Natan — into a garden to try to save them. A Nazi guard put a gun to her shoulder, forcing her away from them.

She later learned they survived for a time, but did not ultimately survive the war. Nor did their parents, Helena and Shlomo Isaac Rosenblatt.

“I had very good parents, very understanding parents, educated parents,” she remembers.

She was soon deported to Gruenberg, part of the Gross-Rosen concentration camp complex in the German town of Silesia, where she worked until January 1945, when camp directors forced the prisoners on a death march.

In February, after two weeks of marching, she saw her chance to escape when a Nazi looked away. She took her chance and ran.

Another girl followed. They spent “three or four days” in the freezing forest, where they banded with a trio of other girls on the run. The group slept in holes covered with snow; Mira said they ate ants and snakes to stave off starvation. One day, they came upon a home with a “big chimney,” and Mira took another risk.

“I knocked on the door and a woman opened [it], a short little woman who said, ‘Gott! You’re a dead person!’” she recalls.

“I’m lost, I’m looking for my parents,” she remembers telling the woman. “Then she said, ‘Come in. I will give you something to eat.’”

Mira stayed on the woman’s farm for three weeks, cleaning her house and mill, feeding her pigs, and aiding with other chores. Although the German woman was a “very good person,” Mira didn’t want to push her luck, calling herself “Irina” as if she were a Polish Christian.

She remained mum about the four other girls, who were hiding in the barn, yet she smuggled food out to them.

One day, a Polish woman visited the house, saw Mira and threatened to call the police because Mira was “without papers.”

The elderly woman told Mira, “Ignore her, she came here [from Poland] too.” But Mira was spooked.

She told the elderly woman she must leave. The woman gave her a loaf of bread and chunk of smoked meat, and said, “God bless you, I hope you find your parents,” Mira recalls. “And if you don’t, come back to me.”

“[She] loved me, the old woman, she kissed me and everything.”

Mira divided the food among the girls. “I cut the bread and meat in five, so everyone had a proper piece,” she says. “I thought we might get separated in the forest.”

They walked a mile-and-a-half and reached a farm, whereupon one in the group announced: “We three are going here. There’s no room for [the two of] you.”

They had met a man who had promised a place for only three to hide.

Mira recalls crying and saying, “I worked the whole time; I used to bring you food. You have no room for me?”

Mira and the fifth girl were left to fend on their own. Yet again, her initiative and a bit of good fortune saved her.

A young man came along in a wagon. The “P” on his lapel alerted Mira he was a Pole. In Polish, she said, “I’m lost. Maybe you have a place for me to stay by you?”

The young man, Bolek, took the two young women to a castle, where a number of Poles were farming the land. “We met the other people and started to work,” Mira recounts, noting that once again she hid her heritage and called herself Irina.

Ultimately, she sent a letter to where her family had lived in Sosnowiec, searching for any hope of their survival. “It was a 42-tenant building my grandfather had built,” she remembers.

When the war ended, a young man came looking for her. One of the Poles said, “Irina, a man is walking around the street, and he’s waving your letter; I recognize your handwriting.”

Mira ran to the street and recognized the man as her distant cousin, Henry Rosenblatt.

“He was wearing green pants and a green blazer, and looked like a soldier,” she recalls tearfully. “The Polish people got frightened because they thought he was an American. They didn’t know I’m Jewish, remember. They said, ‘Americans are here. They are going to kill us.’”

“I said, ‘Let’s find out if he speaks Polish.’ He stayed with us for dinner.”

Soon, Mira told them she was leaving with Henry. “Everyone said, ‘Irina you cannot go away, you cannot leave us.’ I said, ‘No, I’m going with him.’”

“I left with my husband.”

After the war, the couple settled in Germany, where they opened stores selling groceries and dry goods. They lost a daughter, Helena, when she was 22 months old. They immigrated to New York and went on to have three more children: Lil in 1951, Belinda in 1954, and a son, Mel, in 1958.

Mira’s two elder brothers, Herschel and Moniek Rosenblatt, who had fled in 1939 to Lemberg on the Russian front and made their way to Uzbekistan, survived the war.

Henry died in 2017, and their son, who was a noted vascular and interventionist radiologist, passed away last year.

Mira has eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. She is here to remember and remind others of the horrors — and the resilience.

Her legacy lives on.

Heather Robinson is a contributor to The New York Post and blogs at Heatherrobinson.net. Twitter: @HE_Robinson.

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