Miriam (“Mim”) Burhans did not know much about her family’s history until she began a seemingly ordinary graduate school assignment: to prepare a family tree. Although initially reluctant to discuss the subject with her parents, Holocaust survivors who never spoke about their experiences, Mim recognized that her desire to become a social worker stemmed from her family’s connection to the Holocaust and decided to uncover their untold story.
Mim’s parents, Bella and William Citron, both from Poland, met in the Hasag forced labor camp in Czestochowa. Most members of their immediate families did not survive the Holocaust. They were married in 1945 in a displaced persons camp near Stuttgart, Germany, where their only child, Mim, was born in 1948. Ultimately, they made their way to the United States, where they first settled in Springfield, Massachusetts, home to a large community of Holocaust survivors.
As she began to work on her family tree, Mim discovered the reason behind her parents’ silence. Bella and William did not share their stories with Mim because they believed she was not interested; Mim had always yearned to know her parents’ history but never had asked because she feared the memories would upset them.
With this cathartic discovery, Mim’s father found his voice. William began sharing his story with local high school and college students. Believing it was important, Mim’s husband, Hank, paid for Mim and William to travel together to Germany and Poland, where they visited William’s childhood home in Plock, Poland. Mim’s mother chose not to make the trip.
Mim and her parents first visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993. The experience was emotional and illuminating for Mim and her mother, Bella. Walking through the Permanent Exhibition evoked Bella’s memories of those dark days and the family she lost, and it gave Mim a sense of what her family endured during the Holocaust and what it meant to be a survivor.
In honor of her parents, Mim, a charter member of the Museum since 1992, dedicated a portion of her estate to the Museum’s Endowment in 2008 to ensure that the Museum has the permanent resources to educate future generations. Understanding the important role that authentic artifacts play in transmitting this history, she also contributed letters her father wrote after the war to find relatives, along with a suitcase her parents used in their travels from Europe to the United States. Through Mim’s extraordinary commitment and generosity, the Museum will be able to continue telling this story with power and authenticity.