Portrait of the Rot family, taken by a photographer in Munkacs ghetto, Hungary, 1944. After the Holocaust, Miriam—the eldest daughter—recovered this photograph. It is the only surviving portrait of her family.
Behind Every Name a Story (BENAS) is a project of the Museum's Holocaust Survivors and Victims Resource Center. The BENAS web project consists of essays describing survivors' experiences during the Holocaust
Of her immediate family of eleven only Miriam and younger brother Baruch survived. Their harrowing story did not end with liberation. Read excerpts from Miriam's 2003 testimony in which she describes her experiences after liberation. Explore the maps and photos, which illustrate events of the time.
After the Holocaust, Miriam and her brother wanted to leave Europe. In Miriam's own words:
Those who had money, bought certificates for entry into the US or England or Eretz Israel. But we did not have money, so we went to school and learned as much as we could. One day I told my brother that I decided to go to the Joint to inquire about our situation. I did not want to stay like this indefinitely. I wanted to go on. They told me they could transfer us to France. There, there was a group of grownups being organized to go to Israel. Since we were very young, it was up to us to join them. The Joint would help us. We said: "We want to get to Eretz Israel at any price." By cover of night, they helped us cross the border between Germany and France, illegally of course. We were put in a secluded house in a forest, near Cap d'Aix, in the French Riviera between Nice and Monte Carlo.
We were no longer hungry. We hadn't been hungry for quite a while. We had sufficient food: bread, herring, soup, meat. We looked better. There were families there who wanted to adopt me, but not my brother. I refused. I told them I was leaving for Israel. We stayed there for several months, but nothing moved. I talked to the person responsible, and told him that we were young, and we wanted to get to Israel. It wasn't our fault that the certificates for the adults were taking such a long time. We were young and eager to go. They told us they couldn't get us to Israel yet, but that they would send us to join a group in Paris, which was preparing to go to Israel as members of the Betar movement…We were there several months, and they promised that this would be the last station before arriving in Palestine.
Miriam describes the sea voyage to Haifa and being transferred to Cyprus.
From there they took us to a town called Trets, about 50 kilometers east of Marseille where again we stayed for a while, awaiting the opportunity to sail to Israel. From there it was possible to get to port, by cover of night. A sailboat, with a motor, was waiting for us. We sailed in that ship, named "LA NEGEV" in January 1947, packed tightly with very little room for all of us. It took us 21 days to sail from Marseille to Palestine. The whole time we had to empty the water that got into the boat. The motor rattled badly the entire way, and food was scarce: we had crackers and water from rusty barrels. We threw up the entire time.
After 21 days, we arrived into the port of Haifa. We knew we had arrived to a port because there were huge reflectors on the beach. Suddenly, they illuminated our boat. Within 3 minutes, we were surrounded by three British battle ships, and British soldiers.… We were transferred to one of the British battleships. What did they do? They took us to Cyprus! But this was not a torture camp. They gave us food, there were outdoor showers and whoever wanted to study could do that. Many groups were organized. I studied Hebrew.… We stayed in Cyprus from February 1947 until August 1947. Then, the younger people (up to the age of 17) were allowed to enter Palestine, as members of the Youth Aliyah, without certificates. The adults had to wait in Cyprus. They took us to a little town--Atlit--south of Haifa.
Since we were with the Betar movement, we were taken to Shuni, near Biniamina. …We stayed there until the spring of 1948. …
Miriam enlisted for military service in Israel in September 1948.
When we went to the missions, my brother was sent with an Etzel unit to take the Arab town of Ramle, some 15 kilometers east of Tel Aviv. …I enlisted for military service in September of 1948. When you enlist in the army they ask you questions about your family and about who should be contacted if something happens to you. It was a painful feeling to be alone in the world and to become a soldier… I worked in several military clinics, together with a doctor, after taking several specialized training courses in nursing, first aid and other medical treatment procedures.
Coming back to my brother, when I returned from the Ephraim hills to Shuni, and asked where he was, I was told that he was sent on a mission and would soon come back. I waited several days. I went out to the road every day to wait for him.
That is how I found out that my little brother was no longer alive.
As I told you, I enlisted in September 1948. In 1951, army rabbis came to me to tell me that an Arab villager had shown them the burial place of a group of youngsters near Ramle. They requested that I give them some details about my brother, to enable identification. I told them about the shape of two protruding teeth and about a belt which he had with a certain emblem on it. In 1952 the group was buried in a collective grave in Givat Shaul, the main military cemetery in the Tel Aviv area (sobs).
On Memorial Day, that year, they were recognized officially as soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. I really wanted the authorities to recognize him as a soldier. A child, who survived the hell of the Holocaust, who was in Dachau, who survived the death march. A cousin of ours worked in the kitchen of Dachau and identified my little brother. He began to steal some food for him and that is how he saved him.
For me it was not a matter of receiving any pension benefits on his account. Thank God I have enough to eat. I did not want my brother recognized as a hero but as a child who gave his life for his country after surviving hell and suffering. I participate every year, at his grave, in the ceremony of Memorial Day for the Fallen of IDF. I also have a memorial plaque in my synagogue for him and for my entire family, of which no one but my brother and I survived the Holocaust.
Miriam was married in May 1953.
However, God did not forget me after all. I was lucky and in the army I met my husband… He also comes from a religious family. We married in May of 1953 and with God's grace we started together a new tribe, all living in Israel. I pray to God to keep them all in health and prosperity. ... He was born in Berlin in 1929 and in 1933, when he was 4 years old, his family arrived in Palestine. When his father saw Jews being molested in the streets of Berlin, he returned home and told his wife, Sara, that they should move to Israel without delay. She immediately agreed and the family traveled to Krakow, Poland, where the grandfather, a well-known rabbi, lived with the whole family. The entire family stayed behind but my husband's parents insisted on continuing their journey to Israel (Palestine in those days). His mother told me that her mother was running after the coach crying for them not to leave. They covered their ears, refused to look back and arrived in Eretz Israel. Thanks to this, they survived while the rest of the family was annihilated.
Here we established a home together…
Miriam summarizes her story.
I think that a poem (one of many) which my husband wrote for me on the occasion of our 50th wedding anniversary, very adequately sums up what I was trying to tell you. Here it is, freely translated into English.
So, this is my story. Most of it I remember quite vividly. I remember the hunger, the cold, the fear, the beatings, the endless degradation, the total loss of hope and of humanity. My whole family ended in Auschwitz. Some people deny the Holocaust, claiming that it never happened. But it did. You go to Auschwitz and you see the crematoria. I did not revisit Auschwitz yet. My husband and I are still debating the issue. On the one hand, remembering is imperative but, on the other hand, can we muster the strength to return to that hell? … I don't want to break down and shame my children and grandchildren. I have to struggle with myself to remain strong. It is not easy, not easy.
Sometimes, at night I am caught with terror. I don't know what I am afraid of, I am simply in fear. I don't even mention it and I try to calm down and remain in control of myself. I hope I can make it. There is a purpose to my life: I have a wonderful family to live for.
However, we live in times of continued anxiety. When there is an explosion in Jerusalem, and we have great-grandchildren there, I immediately try to call them and if the connection is not immediate, I start shaking maybe they were there, maybe they were on that bus or in that market. Where was he supposed to go, or his wife or his children? The children don't travel alone, they travel with their mother. I always worry. We live in constant tension and we don't see the end of it. I have been here since 1947 and it is 2003 now, that is 56 years. I cannot remember even a few weeks without Jewish victims. Now we have a grandson who is an officer in the Tank Corps. Tell me, how much moral strength is a person allotted? You must be a hero to overcome everything and still say: "I will go on". But, where is the strength supposed to come from?...
Yes, I live for them. May God keep them, and may there be peace in Israel. I couldn't stand any more losses. I had more than enough already.
The children all have their own lives. They are very loving and devoted. They are religious. They don't have any doubts. A parent is a sacred person, very honored, and in religious homes the parent's love is paramount.
There is no other way.
The Aftermath of the Holocaust »
Aliyah Bet »
Postwar Refugee Crisis and the Establishment of the State of Israel »
Behind Every Name a Story—Miriam (Rot) Eshel: Part I, Introduction »
Behind Every Name a Story—Miriam (Rot) Eshel: Whence Your Strength »
Behind Every Name a Story: Index »