Reviewing: “I Am Because of You,” by Miriam Dobin. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. Paperback, 282 pages. 2015. ISBN-10: 1514259966.
On Sunday, July 23, Miriam Dobin, writer of the memoir “I Am Because of You,” spoke at Tifereth Israel in Passaic. Miriam’s speech reflected the topic of her memoir—her life as a child of four Holocaust survivors: her mother, father, aunt and uncle.
Miriam’s mother, Olga, and father, Morris, met and married after the Holocaust, and were unable to have children for 11 years, at which time Miriam was born. When Miriam was 10, Olga had a stroke and, with Morris working, Miriam’s Aunt Ella and Uncle Isadore took her in as their own. Although Ella and Isadore were not able to have children, “they were natural at being parents,” Miriam said, which is why she considered herself the child of four survivors.
Miriam briefly spoke about the years before the war. In 1935, Aunt Ella and Uncle Isadore got married, and in 1941, her mother married Jozsef Strauss. Ella, Isadore and Olga survived the Holocaust; Jozsef Strauss perished.
Quick thinking and risk taking saved the lives of Miriam’s parents during the Holocaust. During the selection in Auschwitz, Olga was sent to the left along with her mother and two younger sisters, which she soon realized would lead her to the crematoria. During the commotion of a selection, Olga ran to the right, joining her sister Ella in being sent to work. In similar risk-taking fashion, Morris and a friend jumped into a ditch alongside the road when walking in the death march. After the unit had moved on, the two saw a Serbian woman coming from the fields and asked her for work and a place to sleep and eat. Taking pity on them, she brought them to her home, where they remained for several weeks.
After the Holocaust ended, Olga, Ella and Isadore emigrated to America, where Olga met Morris Gottesman. In 1953, Olga and Morris married and began building their new life together.
After Miriam’s Aunt Ella passed away, Miriam promised to keep her family’s memories and experiences alive, a promise that inspired this memoir. The two-year project included a trip that unveiled previously unknown details of her parents’ past.
In July of 2014, Miriam and her husband visited Auschwitz, including the very barracks in which her mother and aunt were imprisoned. Miriam took the opportunity to eulogize her family members whose lives had been lost. “You have died here physically, but you aren’t dead… You live through me. You live on through your surviving daughters, Olga and Ella… I love you from all the stories I’ve been told about you and so you will continue to live on.” Afterwards, Miriam walked past the barbed wire that surrounded them and suddenly heard a tear; she looked down to see her skirt torn. When her friends noted, “You just did kriah,” Miriam realized that it was not her but, rather, Hashem who did the kriah.
After Auschwitz, the couple planned to search for the home of Miriam’s parents and grandparents, although all they knew was that they had lived in Oborin, Slovakia, before the war. The only other clue they had was Miriam’s aunt’s description of the house’s location: “Our house was the last house on the street. We lived on the bank of a lake and the church was that way [across from their house].”
When they passed by the church they spotted construction workers and asked if there were any elderly people living nearby. They were directed to the door of an elderly woman named Aranka, who showed them the Hecht house, right next door to hers. Miriam told The Jewish Link that at that moment, through her tears, she was so incredulous that she continued to test Aranka, asking her questions and taking out an album to see if she could name the people in the pictures. Aranka passed every test. This amazing interaction between Miriam and Aranka was filmed by Yaakov Dobin and can be found on Youtube or on the “I Am Because of You” website.
Miriam wrote “I Am Because of You” as a tribute to her family; however, in researching publishing options, she encountered the shameful truth of an increase in Holocaust deniers. When Miriam first reached out to a literary agent, he said that he did not know much about the Holocaust. “Nobody is interested in the Holocaust anymore. The book world is inundated with the Holocaust.” Ultimately, Miriam self-published the book. To date, 600 copies of “I Am Because of You” have been sold, with many copies being purchased from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Although Miriam’s parents instilled in her many valuable lessons, one in particular made a lasting impression: the pride of being Jewish. Miriam remembers that when she was younger her father planned on sending her to public school because yeshiva was costly. When Aunt Ella and Uncle Isadore heard about this, they said, “After what we went through, you want to put her there?” They decided to pay for Miriam’s tuition from nursery through seventh grade, with her father taking over from eighth grade through college.
Miriam, now the early childhood director at AABJ&D preschool in West Orange, showed recent pictures of her family, which included her children and grandchildren. She pointed out that her daughter Rivka is named after her mother Olga and that her granddaughter Esther is named after her Aunt Ella, and noted, “Hitler lost because we are still here.”
In conclusion, she said, “‘I Am Because of You’ is the title of this book but, really, it is who I am. It’s my life because of them.”
“I Am Because of You” can be purchased through Amazon or at stores in Highland Park, East Brunswick and Brooklyn. For more information, visit iambecauseofyou.net. To contact Miriam Dobin for speaking engagements, email Iambecauseofyou120@gmail.com.
By Chani Shulman
Chani Shulman, a rising sophomore at Manhattan High School for Girls, is a summer intern at The Jewish Link.