Holocaust survivor hopes never happens again
Dr. Al Miller of Hamilton, OH spoke at Atrium Medical Center July 28 about the horrors of being a Jew during the presidency of Adolf Hitler. From the time he was 10-years-old throughout his journey to American at the age of 17, his life was shaped by a dictatorship that’s main goal was not only to wipe out a certain race but a religion. Here’s his story.
“I don’t consider myself a holocaust survivor because I escaped Germany before things got too bad. I thought they were bad at the time, but little did I know it would get so much worse,” Miller said. “I was one of the lucky ones.”
His presentation was moving, inspirational and heartbreaking. There were tears in the audience and Miller captured the attention of all throughout the entire presentation.
He spoke about life before Hitler’s presidency. Because of his family’s lucrative business, he wanted for nothing. He loved his classmates, his family loved their neighbors, and his family was considered a predominate part of the community. But, quickly things changed. First, there was a division of faith. German children were marked with the sign of Hitler and Jewish children with a star. Little by little Jewish rights were stripped away. Little by little loved ones and friends left. Laws became stringent, curfews were enforced and alienation from others began.
He stayed in school as long as he could. He stayed because he had two really good friends, part of the Hitler youth, and sports. But, school got worse as time went on and he said one teacher in particular was very cruel. But, the day that drew the line for him was after an assembly, which they often had, Hitler youth chanted a song, that to this day he remembered, “Put the blood of a jew at the end of your knife.” His parents sent him and his brother away to safety while they stayed behind in Germany.
His parents thought they would have time to leave, but their passports were taken by SS soldiers. It was many years later that they found someone to help them get papers to leave. But, in the meantime, they were both living in deplorable conditions of the ghetto and hiding with non-Jewish friends.
Miller was able to attend the 1936 Olympics. He witnessed Jesse Owens win four medals. Hitler left the stadium and would probably roll in his grave if he saw the photos of a black man winning medals in his stadium. But, according to Miller, Owens eventually became his number one hero- not just for his athletic accomplishments, but just for the person he became.
In 1939, Miller and his family reunited and immigrated to the United States. When existing the boat, the immigrates were lined up getting processed and tensions were high. Miller reached the front of the line, realizing he didn’t have his papers. He became frantic, sweaty and scared to death. But, the man he faced was cool, calm and collective. “It’s okay. You probably just forgot them in your cabin. Just go back and see if you can find them,” Jesse Owens said. That’s exactly what happened. Miller brought his papers back to Owens. Owens smiled at him, stamped Miller’s documents and said “Welcome to America Al. This is your second chance in life, make it worth something,” Owens said.
It was the first time, after shifting from country to country over the years that Miller was not considered an “Enemy Alien” and was welcomed.
Before wrapping up his presentation, Miller paused, taking a moment to ponder. Grief washed over his face.
“Could this happen again?” Miller asked. “I think it has. On a smaller scale, but it’s still mass killings. I’m talking about acts of genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and others. Do I think it could happen again? I think it could.”
His biography, as printed in the brochure:
Dr. Al Miller, Holocaust Survivor:
Dr. Al Miller was born in Berlin, Germany in 1922. His family owned a successful clothing company, and he has many happy memories of his early childhood. As an active youth, he enjoyed sports until one day he arrived at his favorite recreation center to find it forbidden to Jews. He also was an enthusiastic student. He remembers many of his childhood friends joining the Hitler Youth and wearing their uniforms with pride and cutting him out of their lives for being Jewish. He was the last Jewish student to remain in his class until it was made too uncomfortable for him to stay in 1936. Al attended the infamous Berlin Olympics in which American runner Jesse Owens won four medals. As conditions became worse for the Jews in Germany, his family put together a plan to leave the country and resettle elsewhere. Al departed Nazi Germany in 1937 for Switzerland, which his brother was sent to England. His parents remained in Germany, enduring Kristallnacht and hiding in a friend’s home. The family was eventually reunited in England before immigrating to America in 1939. Al settled in Hamilton, OH where he practiced optometry until his retirement.
Dr. Al Miller is a part of The Center for Holocaust & Humanity Education’s Speakers’ Bureau. The Center for Holocaust & Humanity Education educates about the Holocaust, remembers its victims and acts on its lessons. Through innovative programs and partnerships, CHHE challenges injustice, inhumanity and prejudice, and fosters understanding, inclusion and engaged citizenship.