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Mira Kimmelman's story - Survived a two and a half week ride on cattle train and a two-day death march in 30 below zero temps

Mira Kimmelman

Mira Kimmelman is a tireless old fanatic who has been on the Holo circuit for decades via the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, Inc's "Speakers Bureau".

Words do not do justice to describe this fable....harrowing, dreadful, horrible are the best we can do....

It goes like this: Her mother and grandparents were gassed to death and then burned at the Treblinka death camp. Mira, her brother, and her father were sent to the Auschwitz "death factory". When Auschwitz was evacuated before the Soviet army arrived, she was "Death Marched" with 60,000 other inmates west into Germany. For two days she waled through the snow in 30 below zero temperatures. After the two-day march, she traveled for two and a half weeks on a cattle car (with no heat in 30 below temps) to Bergen-Belsen, where she had to drink her own urine. Only 2 members of her immediate family of 18 survived.

Jews like Mira are very worried about the "very real potential that the Holocaust might be repeated."

Mira tells her story to fight "hate, bigotry and intolerance", pleading that "we all belong to the same race -- the human race", because some people deny the Holocaust happened, and to prevent the real Holocaust from occurring in the future.

A journey of pain and intolerance
The Oak Ridger
Posted May 05, 2009 @ 09:00 AM

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Mira Kimmelman's story is hard to share, but she tells it anyway.

"It is so hard," Kimmelman told The Oak Ridger at the conclusion of a recent afternoon presentation to students and teachers at Oak Ridge High School.

"I'm here to share part of my life with you. It's not a very pleasant part. It's not easy to talk about," Kimmelman explained as she introduced herself to students of English teacher Connie Hull and several other students and instructors.

Kimmelman, 85, said she tells and retells her story for three reasons: for the victims who cannot speak up because they are dead; because people deny the Holocaust ever happened -- "You can't deny it, it's history;" and to educate younger generations about the dangers of intolerance and hate so the Holocaust won't be repeated.

Kimmelman, an Oak Ridge resident since 1964, is the author of two books about her life: "Echoes from the Holocaust" and "Life Beyond the Holocaust."

Born Mira Ryczke on Sept. 17, 1923, in a suburb of the Baltic seaport of Danzig (what is now Gdansk, Poland), Kimmelman said "my life was very peaceful and happy until Hitler came to power."

At the age of 12, she was kicked out of school because she is Jewish.

"We were spit at, hit with stones. But the worst was yet to come," she said.

When World War II broke out in 1939, Kimmelman said her family and other Jewish families were forced from their homes and taken to Warsaw, Poland.

She spent five and a half years in ghettos, and labor and concentration camps in Germany and Poland. She and her father were the only two members of her immediate family -- 18 total -- who survived the camps.

Kimmelman said she and her family lived with other family members at different times during the first years of the war. They lived in one room, and often went without food or heat.

"We bartered what we had for food," she said.

Members of the Jewish community were also made to wear an armband with the Star of David on it. They were not allowed on public or private transportation, could not walk on main streets, and they had to comply with a curfew.

"If we disobeyed, the penalty was death," she said. "We had no law to protect us."

To survive Warsaw, Kimmelman said her father decided the family had to leave.

She said in January 1940, she and her family members took off their armbands and walked in temperatures that dropped to 40 degrees below zero to the train station. They didn't walk together as a family so they had a better chance to survive.

"We risked our lives," she said. Once the family made it to the train station they realized the train was too full so they went back to their home and tried again the next day, when they were able to get on the train.

Their journey took the family to her grandparents' house, where there was a hot meal and a warm room.

That, however, didn't last long, she said.

Soon "ghettos" were declared and strict laws were placed on the Jewish families. They had no bathroom facilities and little or no food to eat.

"You often say you are 'starved,'" Kimmelman told the students. "Hunger is actually very painful. All you dream about is food."

"Hitler's ghettos were walled-in jails," she said. "We were completely isolated."

Her family existed on rotten, often frozen, potatoes and bread. But the young people longed to be "normal," so they had "secret schools" and were educated in hidden rooms and closets.

"Worship and education were prohibited," she said, but the children found ways to learn and teach each other.

Life continued that way until a day in October 1942 when her father and brother were taken for forced labor.

"We were ordered to dress in warm clothing, warm coats and work shoes if we had them," she said. "We were told we would be taken to the east to work and that our families would not be separated.

"I walked with my mother," Kimmelman recalled. "Eighteen people in my family walked to the station."

"An SS officer ordered me out of line," said Kimmelman, referencing the infamous Nazi military organization under Adolf Hitler. "I had no time to say a word to my mother, to embrace her.

"I never saw my mother again."

Kimmelman said she was one of about 600 lives -- of about 15,000 to 20,000 people in the ghetto -- spared that day.

The others -- including her mother and grandparents -- were gassed to death and then burned at Treblinka death camp.

"I have no grave for my mother," she said, the pain showing in her eyes, "no grave for my grandparents."

Kimmelman, her father, an uncle and her brother were then taken to Blyzin Concentration Camp. At the camp, the prisoners were forced to work, became ill, and suffered from unsanitary conditions.

The prisoners also witnessed punishment for anyone who disobeyed.

"All punishment took place at roll call, and we had to watch.

"It's human nature not to believe something you haven't seen," Kimmelman said, noting that she saw many people killed during the mandatory twice-daily roll calls.

In July 1944, Kimmelman, her father and brother were evacuated with thousands of others to Auschwitz.

"Auschwitz was a death factory," said Kimmelman, who saw her 16-year-old brother for the last time at the gates of the reviled extermination camp.

Anyone who was ill, wore glasses, had gray hair, walked on crutches or was unable to work was automatically sent to the gas chambers.

"Three thousand were killed around the clock at Auschwitz," she said. "We were slaves. We were branded like cattle."

Kimmelman said the prisoners were forced to take cold showers, then they were shaved, and given wooden shoes and striped uniforms to wear.

"They wanted to reduce us to subhumans," she said. "We had no way of fighting physically. We defied them with our spirits," she explained.

Kimmelman said her memories of happier times and her family kept her alive.

In January 1945, Auschwitz was evacuated before the Russian army came.

"It was 30 below zero, and there was three feet of snow," Kimmelman said. "Sixty thousand people marched out.

"Anyone who could not keep up was shot," she said. After two days of walking, the survivors were loaded into open cattle cars "like sardines in a can."

"We were unable to move," she said. "We relieved ourselves where we sat, and it froze."

Kimmelman and the others arrived at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp two and a half weeks later. That camp was liberated on April 15, 1945. Kimmelman was 21 years old.

"The Holocaust happened because of hate, bigotry and intolerance," Kimmelman explained.

"You are leaders of the future," she said. "Hate is a terrible disease."

She urged the students and educators to remember her story. Kimmelman said the younger generations need to grow up without hatred.

"We all belong to the same race -- the human race. Grow up with tolerance and respect for every human being."

Article #1: "A journey of pain and intolerance"

Another article:

Remembering the Gates of Auschwitz

Holocaust ’remarkable story of the human spirit'

By D. Ray Smith | Historically Speaking
The Oak Ridger
Posted May 01, 2008 @ 06:00 PM

OAK RIDGE, Tenn. — Holocaust Remembrance Day is this Friday.

    It is a day set aside for remembering the Holocaust's victims "and for reminding Americans of what can happen to civilized people when bigotry, hatred and indifference reign," according to information provided by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

    If you have ever heard Mira Ryczke Kimmelman speak about her experience as a young girl who survived the Holocaust, this Day of Remembrance means more to you. You will recall that she ends her talk with the stinging reminder -- "it can happen again!"

    Mira gives three reasons for her presentations:

  • To educate the children;
  • There are those who actually deny the Holocaust; and
  • For those who perished (Only her father and Mira survived the Holocaust, the rest of her family died.).

      Mira tells of her experience surviving a Death March out of Auschwitz in the winter of 1944-1945. She walked for two days and nights in sub-zero temperatures.

    Prior to the concentration camps, she tells of the life she was forced to live in the ghettos where she suffered from hunger and disease as early as 1942. Later, she and her mother were forced to leave the ghettos -- and she was separated from her mother.

    She first went to the Blizyn concentration camp and then to the infamous Auschwitz death camp. Her horrendous journey through concentration camps ended at Bergen-Belsen, where she endured the most horrible conditions of all and was even forced to drink urine to survive.

    One memory that still haunts her is last seeing her brother at the gates of Auschwitz; he died at the age of 17.

    The day I reviewed this article with her, Mira noted that the next day was the 63rd anniversary of her brother's death. Her pain at that loss was apparent in her eyes.

    Her obvious pain caused me to feel so inadequate to understand and comprehend what she had gone through. To see her brother and know that he was essentially a dead person, knowing that there was no recourse left.

    Being helpless to do anything to save him, and now remembering him after 63 years.

    I just can't imagine the enduring pain she feels.

    Mira is the author of two books, "Echos of the Holocaust" and "Life Beyond the Holocaust -- Memories and Realities." They are available at local book stores and on

    Reading them and sharing them with your children will bring a face to the Holocaust that will help you and your children to greater appreciate this dreadful chapter in our world's history.

    And it might even help prevent a recurrence.

    Born in 1923 in Danzig (Gdansk), Poland, Mira had a normal, healthy childhood. Until the fall of Poland in 1939, her family continued to live their lives and she learned to cherish her faith and heritage.

    Mira's early life equipped her to handle the tremendous struggles to come.

    Her entire family was forced from their home, and they were placed in circumstances that aren't even within our comprehension today. The life in the ghettos, the concentration camps, the Death March, the weeks in railroad boxcars ... all this is so bizarre to us that we have to struggle just to understand it really happened.

    That is why it is so important for Mira Kimmelman and other survivors to tell Their Story. Our children and grandchildren MUST know the truth.

    They are the ones, and perhaps they are the only ones, who can prevent another Hitler and the atrocities that accompanied his reign.

    The children of today (as well as many adults) need to be exposed to the truth from the people who lived it. Already there are people who deny the Holocaust ever happened. I can't imagine that, but neither can I imagine the actual depth of depravity that caused German soldiers to willingly take the lives of over a million innocent people.

    The other important stories are those of the liberators.

    Young American soldiers who saw the realities of the death camps were unable to even tell of their experience it was so horrible. They attempted to put it out of their minds by pretending it never existed, but they could not.

    Most of them eventually broke their self-imposed silence and told their stories.

    One I heard is that of Jimmy Gentry of Franklin, Tenn. I met him and heard him speak, and I also purchased his book, "An American Life," where he tells of the atrocities he personally observed.

    The death stench still haunts him.

    The Day of Remembering Web site states: "The Holocaust is not merely a story of destruction and loss; it is a story of an apathetic world and a few rare individuals of extraordinary courage.

    “It is a remarkable story of the human spirit and the life that flourished before the Holocaust, struggled during its darkest hours, and ultimately prevailed as survivors rebuilt their lives."

    At the Web site titled "Living On: Tennesseans Remembering the Holocaust" ( you can read Mira's story and those of many more Tennessee Holocaust survivors and liberators.

    When I visited Mira to discuss this story with her, she told me she was going the next day to speak to school kids in Dandridge, and she was so proud to be able to go. You could see it in her eyes.

    “I must go," she said. "It is too important not to go."

    Mira said she realized she didn't have too many more years on this Earth and she felt compelled to do every single thing she could possibly do to alert the children of the very real potential that the Holocaust might be repeated.

    Her story is powerful, and she is living proof that horrible things can happen to innocent people.

    Remember Mira's resounding call to arms -- "It can happen again!" We must do all we can to prove her wrong and to assure future generations remember.

    If you have not heard Mira speak, the next time an opportunity presents itself, take your entire family to hear the truth from the words of experience.

    Mira Kimmelman is Oak Ridge's Holocaust survivor, and she is the real thing.

    She is my hero.

This has been a special edition of D. Ray Smith's column ''Historically Speaking,'' which is published every Tuesday in The Oak Ridger. The local historian can be contacted at [email protected] or by phone at (865) 482-4224.

Article #2: "Remembering the Gates of Auschwitz"

Note: use to find articles if original links no longer work

Mira's "memoir" Echoes from the Holocaust:


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