Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Miriam Rothstein: A Profile in Courage

By: Ellis Simon, 88, Los Angeles Jewish Home resident 
Originally published in the Chai Journal Summer 2012 issue.

Miriam Rothstein, 91, is a lovely, gentle lady who survived the Holocaust. There is not one shred of bitterness in her demeanor. Born to an observant, educated, and well-to-do family that owned a supermarket in Romania, Miriam was the ninth of eleven children. When she was four, her family moved to a village in the Carpathian Mountains to be with her mother’s family. After Hungary annexed Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Miriam’s prep school studies ended and the family supermarket closed. In August 1941, Jews lacking Hungarian citizenship were apprehended. By March 1944, Germans controlling their town rounded up all able-bodied Jews. Miriam and her older sister, Rachel, who looked more like her younger sister, since Miriam was taller and stronger, boarded a train for Uzhorod, then part of Hungary, where her older sister Margaret and her brother Baruch lived. In April, the Jews in Uzhorod had to report to the ghetto there, and Miriam and Rachel hid in a shed for three days. Miriam changed into a two-piece red silk dress, attaching her mother’s diamond ring to an inside button before the sisters entered the overcrowded and unsanitary ghetto.

At the end of May, they were squeezed into cattle cars headed to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her red dress was tossed into a huge pile and her hair was shaved. Everyone slept on the floor and people were brought to the crematorium. With the Russian army approaching in 1945, two kind SS guards gathered up food and escaped with the girls and eventually left after rescuing them. In the bitter cold, they finally came to a farm where they slept in the barn until Russian soldiers liberated them. Eventually, Miriam and Rachel returned to Uzhorod where they learned their parents, sister Margaret, and youngest brother Yehuda had been poisoned.

While living in Czechoslovakia, Miriam met Herman Rothstein, a guard for the Czech president. In 1946, they married and he, too, owned a supermarket. Their daughter Vera was born in 1947. In 1949, they immigrated to Israel where their son, David, was born in 1953. A year later, Miriam had tuberculosis, prompting a move to Chicago where Herman had relatives. Their youngest daughter, Mindy, was born there in 1957. Vera and Mindy currently live in LA, and David, a university professor, now lives in Israel. Miriam and Herman retired and moved to Los Angeles in 1992.

Herman died in 2000, and Miriam lived on her own, assisted 4 hours a day by helpers who cleaned and took her shopping and on excursions. Her children eventually convinced her it would be wiser to move into a retirement community. In 2008, after checking out three other communities, Miriam chose the Jewish Home. She wanted to live in a warm, friendly Jewish setting with a built in social life and clinic. We are so pleased to have her as a part of our community. Miriam enjoys playing bingo, our entertainment and many special events, Rabbi Rita’s services and classes, and the Talking Yiddish Group with Murray. Miriam wishes she knew the names of the kind SS officers. Her three children, seven grandchildren, and nine great-grandchildren give her great pride.

When I asked Miriam how she survived such harrowing experiences, she said it was hard work (which included building trenches and laying cable), eating little (mostly bread with a little jam and margarine snuck to her by a kind cook), and living one day at a time. But mostly, it was her belief that she would survive that kept her going. Miriam’s story is truly a profile in courage.

Miriam’s story was also featured in an article by Jane Ulman in The Jewish Journal. Photo credit: David Miller

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