Growing up during 'Hitler times'
Solis experienced early prejudice due to her Jewish faith
Published: Thursday, April 26, 2012
Updated: Sunday, April 29, 2012 12:04
Holocaust survivor Miriam Keleman Solis said she struggled growing up during "Hitler times."
Solis told a Kirkwood Community College audience on April 17 that she was just a small girl when her family was taken into a forced labor camp. Her father and stepmother survived the ordeal, Solis said. But Solis recalled the survivor's guilt she deals with because of her cousin's death.
In a poem that she wrote and read to the audience, she asks, "Why was I spared and not you?" She describes herself as having "toothpick legs," while her cousin was strong and smart. She describes their time together: "We sat starved, huddled in our fear."
Timing, Solis said, has been a large factor in the events in her life. She explained how her family had planned to more to London on Sept. 2, 1939, which was just one day before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland and the borders closed.
She described an incident when a bomb came through a window into a room she was in, but the bomb did not detonate. "Everything's timing in life," she said.
She recalled her first encounters with prejudice against her Jewish religion. She was physically and verbally attacked leaving school as a child. She said that after returning home from an attack she asked her father, "Why do they call me a dirty Jew? I take a bath every day."
"Children learn to hate at a very early age," she said, sadly.
As a 10-year-old she had given a valedictorian speech to a class and afterward a priest spoke with her father about her intellectual levels. After praising the girl, the priest said, "Too bad she's a Jew."
Solis said her mother separated from her father when Solis was very young and converted from Judaism to Christianity in order to marry a nobleman. Solis remembered a time when her mother wore a disguise and visited Solis and Solis' stepmother at the forced labor camp. After Solis asked her mother to take her home with her, the mother responded, "I cannot take a Jewish child into my home."
Solis said she was 13 at the end of the war. She suffered from thyroid problems and jaundice as well as starvation and various infections. She said it was "painful waiting for freedom."
Solis has lived in San Francisco since 1952. She said warning signs testing for emergencies often bring back memories of air raids.
"The Holocaust is not something any one of us can forget," she said.