I read a lot of books about the Holocaust and I always think, “this one won’t be much different than the last one I read.” It never ceases to amaze me, though, at how many ways the Nazis planned and executed the most cruel and vile treatment of the Jewish people – and the myriad of ways the Jews found to survive.
Holocaust survivor Millie Werber tells her story of love and war, dedicating her memoir to her cherished and beloved children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, “and to my two great loves – one that was consumed in a moment and the other than flourished for sixty years.” Her co-author Eve Keller first met Millie at the home of Millie’s son and Eve’s family friend. She was finally able to coax Millie to tell her story, although for years she had spoken little about the horrible years of the Nazi reign of terror. Through a series of interviews and discussions consisting of “broad-based questions,” Eve was able to piece together Millie’s amazing story of survival.
One essential part of her story was held back for quite some time until Millie showed Eve a pair of gold rings, one with the initials “HG” engraved in it and a tattered photograph of Millie and her first husband, Heniek. Heniek was twelve years older than Millie and had a plan to get them out of Germany so they married in secret, yet never lived together as man and wife – only stealing away for moments alone when it was safe to do so. Millie could not really say how long Heniek Greenspan was her husband, but it was not long enough. Suddenly one day Heniek was taken away and never to be seen again, betrayed by a fellow Jew. Yet Millie kept the rings – even going to great (and sometimes unbelievable) lengths to preserve them.
She worked in the factories and camps to keep the Nazi machine operational and was finally sent to Auschwitz. There she lost whatever was left of her faith. She was separated from her family, her mother likely dead – for her there were no miracles in Auschwitz. She was merely seventeen years old, already a widow and likely an orphan. For her, God was nowhere to be found. By the time she was finally liberated she said, “I remember knowing, with clarity – that I no longer wanted to be a Jew, that I wanted simply to be a human being.”
She eventually, almost reluctantly, found love again and spent more than a half century with her second husband Jack, who worshiped and adored her. When they finally made it to America, the transition was not easy, but they were eventually able to have a family and a successful business. This story was written after Jack’s death in 2006, and it seems that when finished it was a great relief to Millie to unburden herself with the past. In closing the book, she remarked:
Now I am done with secrets. Now I claim my first love, lest it die with me: My Heniek, I loved you so.
Have a GREAT day . . . someday it will be HISTORY!
© Sharon Hall (Digging History), 2014.