Miriam Dobin considered herself lucky to be raised by “four wonderful parents,” all older Holocaust survivors whose pasts and influence have affected her life and actions.
The Highland Park resident was a “miracle baby,” born in 1964 as the only child of her mother, Olga Hecht Gottesman, when she was just weeks shy of her 48th birthday. Her mother was believed to be unable to have children because of the severe deprivations she experienced at Auschwitz. Her father, Morris, was 56 years old at the time.
“They went to many doctors and finally Hashem sent them to the right doctor,” said Dobin. “After 11 years of marriage, my parents had a little girl.”
When Miriam was 10, her mother suffered a debilitating stroke and spent much of the rest of her remaining 14 years in hospitals and a nursing facility. To enable her father to continue working, Dobin went to live in nearby Perth Amboy with her “Aunty” Ella, her mother’s older sister, and Uncle Isadore Reich, who were never able to have children of their own. The only other surviving family member, her father’s younger brother, had immigrated to Palestine in 1933.
Her parents and surrogate parents “transmitted a healthy family life, a healthy Jewish life to continue in the same traditions as they were raised,” said Dobin, who spoke July 19 at Congregation Ohav Emeth in Highland Park about her new book, I Am Because of You, a tribute to the four people who raised her.
A nursery school teacher for 19 years at East Brunswick Jewish Center, Dobin will begin next month at the preschool of Yeshiva at the Jersey Shore that is housed at Young Israel of East Brunswick.
Her aunt, the last of the three remaining “parents,” died in 2011, and Dobin’s own daughter got married less than six weeks later. The coincidence compelled her to put their story in a book.
All three lived into their 80s and 90s, her father long enough that his three grandchildren got to know him as they grew up. Dobin also has a younger granddaughter.
The miracle of her own birth is matched by her parents’ drive to survive.
At Auschwitz, her mother bolted from a line to which she, two of her sisters, her mother, and her grandmother had been sent by the guards. She joined Ella in the work line; three days later the rest of the Hecht women were gassed.
“My mother actually saved her own life because in all the commotion she decided to run from the left to join her sister Ella,” said Dobin.
Her father saved his life through similar quick thinking and luck. In the spring of 1945, as the end of the war was nearing, he was on a forced march from a labor camp in Yugoslavia to Hungary. As darkness descended, he and a friend jumped into a roadside ditch.
When they emerged, they saw a Serbian woman coming back from the fields and asked her for work and a place to stay. She and her husband sheltered them for several weeks.
Later, when her father told her the story, Dobin recalled, he was in tears. “It was the first time in years that he sat at a table with chairs. He was finally treated as a human being, not an animal.”
He later learned that the rest of the men in the unit had been machine-gunned down.
Her mother and aunt grew up in an observant family in Oborin, then part of Czechoslovakia, now in Hungary, as the two oldest of four girls and two boys. Their parents owned a general store, which was confiscated in 1940. A year later Dobin’s mother married Jozsef Strauss, who would die in late 1942 in a Russian labor camp.
Ella married Isadore in 1935 and moved to a nearby Czech town, but fled, and, said Dobin, between 1942 and 1944 “aunty and uncle would be running and hiding to save their lives.”
On the second day of Passover 1944, they were sent to the ghetto in Nagy Sollos, Hungary, and two months later to Auschwitz.
After surviving Auschwitz, Ella and Olga were transferred to a forced-labor camp in Nuremberg, where they wired airplane wheels, and soon after to another labor camp in Czechoslovakia, where they put gunpowder into shells. They were liberated two months later by American troops.
Dobin’s father grew up one of nine children in a Belzer hasidic family living in Svalyava, Czechoslovakia, now part of Ukraine. The family owned a country store and about five acres of farmland.
Even before the Holocaust, five siblings of his had died. The oldest brother died in action during World War I; three sisters and a brother, all under 10, succumbed to disease.
Dobin’s uncle worked in the crematoria and tending the officer’s horses at Auschwitz before being transferred to Dachau, from which he was liberated by American troops in April 1945.
The three reunited and came to America in 1949. Olga and Morris met in the United States and were married in 1953.
Last summer Dobin and her husband, Yaakov, took “the trip of a lifetime.” They went to Poland and visited Auschwitz, where she eulogized her family by a pond that had formed in a spot where dumped human ashes had hardened to the consistency of cement.
They continued to Oborin to seek out the Hecht house, which, according to a video her aunt had made for Steven Spielberg’s USC Shoah Foundation, was the last house on the street, on the bank of a lake and across from a church, Dobin said.
Their guide was directed to the door of a woman named Aranka, who lived on a street with those landmarks. She pointed to the house next door and said they were “a nice family,” said Dobin. “Everything she said confirmed what my aunt told me.”
Before leaving, the guide walked next door and scratched the name Hecht into a large boulder on the property.