Miriam Nekrycz – As a Refugee in Germany

In the winter of 1945-1946, a possibility arose for Miriam to join a group of children and young people who would cross over to Western Germany. Since Berlin was located in the middle of the Russian zone, they could only leave the Schlachtensee camp with the authorization of the  American authorities. Rosa and Judith gave Miriam all the incentive for leaving, but she was sad to separate once again from people who were so dear to her.

displaced boy
Boy Waiting to Go to Displaced Persons’ Camp. (Oil painting).

There were around thirty orphaned children in the group, besides a married couple of survivors from the city of Lodz. Although those children came from several different European countries they, they were all united by the tragic past they had in common. Many of the children had been in concentration camps and still lived as if they had to fight for a piece of bread in order to survive; others were  scared and were always afraid of everything. Taking care of those children was not an easy task, but Helen and Rudolf Loeffel had unlimited love, kindness and perseverance. They managed to create a family atmosphere for the children.

Aided by Jewish institutions in Berlin, Miriam and her friends were given  permission to travel to Munich by train. From the railway station, they were taken to a refugee camp located in Aschau, a city that had not been bombarded during the war and whose inhabitants claimed they never knew about concentration and extermination camps, neither about the genocide of millions of Jews.

The Loeffel couple was a good example of human dignity. Helen had studied  at Sorbonne; Rudolf had been a lawyer of repute. They had fled Lodz before the Nazi occupation and lived separately in the Arian zone of Warsaw. Helen spoke impeccable Polish  and looked Arian enough to get a job as a housekeeper and teacher of French in the house of a wealthy Polish family. Her husband also managed to hide, and participated in the Warsaw uprising against the Nazis.

The couple reunited after the war and decided to dedicate their lives to take care of orphans. They spent nights and days comforting their sorrowful and wounded “children,” in whom they tried to nurture the hope for a better future.

There were other groups of young people living in the camp, most of which were affiliated with Zionist parties. There was a doctor in the camp, who often came to take care of their health. The doctor spoke about Zionism and Middle East politics, discussing the British policy and the interest of world powers for the petroleum.

Sometime after Miriam moved to that camp, Babcia and family  proceeded to Western Germany, staying at the refugee camp of Salzheim, a city close to Frankfurt. She went to visit them and found out that they were all eager to depart from Europe as much as she was.

Food was scarce in the Aschau refugee camp. The young people were always hungry, especially the boys. This was something difficult to understand, considering the camp was supported by UNRRA. Upon the arrival of an American commission to investigate the problem, they found out  that the camp was being  robbed and the food sold in the in the black market. After this, they began to have better meals. Miriam liked to help clean the room and sew curtains, putting into practice the skills Stefcia had taught her.

Miriam had several times registered in the Jewish offices so that they could locate her relatives abroad. It had now been one year since the first time registering at the Jewish office in Lodz, and yet she had not received any answer thus far. For this reason, it was often frustrating to see other children to go live with their families, such as her friend Esther who was found by her father and soon left the camp never to return. Despite of this, Miriam was absolutely determined determined to go to Eretz Israel. Love for that land took hold of her heart as she learned about the 2,000 years of dispersion of her people.

One day, when the camp was preparing to receive two important visitors – a poet and a singer – someone called Miriam, telling her that there was a letter for her from Palestine. She was so glad to receive the letter that she failed meet the visitors when they arrived, spending her time reading and rereading the letter again and again. Miriam was no longer alone! She now had a family that was concerned about her; they loved her and wanted to see her as soon as possible. Her uncles wrote that the other members of her family living in the United States had already been told about her being in the camp, therefore she would soon receive news from them.

Miriam had never been so happy before. A couple days later,  a letter from Aunt Miriam, her father’s sister, arrived from New York. She wanted Miriam to go live with them in the United States. Aunt Ana from Brazil, her mother’s sister, wrote that she was ready to come to Germany to take her. Miriam, however, responded that although she was thankful for the invitation, she intended to live in Eretz Israel, explaining the reasons why she had made the decision to stay in her home country.

Miriam’s next step was to travel to the Salzheim camp, where Babcia was living with her family. They told her they had also received a letter from relatives living in Argentina. At first they had the intention of going to Eretz Israel, but because of the British blockade, which made the Aliyah almost impossible for an elderly lady such as Babcia, they had decided to head towards Argentina.

Judith had also found her brother, who had been released from the Soviet Army, and was now living with them in a refugee camp close to Munich. There she met her fiancé, and they were soon to get married.

The visit Munich was very gratifying for Miriam. She was glad to witness the happiness and joy experienced by her loved ones. She would be forever grateful to Rosa and Judith, who had given a new meaning to her life: thanks to them she had found her family abroad.

Meanwhile, her dear friend Tereza fell ill. After months in agony, the doctors found out she had a brain tumor. In the nights of vigil in the hospital beside her friend’s bed, Miriam wondered that, if she had the chance to go to Eretz Israel and study, she would like to become a nurse so that she could better take care of the sick.


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