Research

Miller, Jack

Survivor, Escapee, Red Army

Military prison camp

Jack Miller was born in a small Polish town in 1920 to an Orthodox Jewish family. He was one of six children. He would be the only one to survive the war. After graduating from public schools he worked in a lumberyard and then was being trained as a lathe operator when the Germans invaded. The family was very religious. Jack and his older brother were both members of a Zionist organization and had future plans of immigrating to Palestine. He noticed a substantial rise in Anti-Semitism in the late 30s. The Polish citizens of the town were boycotting the Jewish businesses.

When the Germans invaded in 1939 they immediately only stayed for two weeks and left when the Russians moved in. However, the Germans again occupied their town. After being beaten in the streets by German soldiers, he decided to leave the German section. He left by train with his brother and went 80km to the Soviet sector.

After a few months, Jack believed he should go back and be with his parents. His brother said that he would go and that Jack should stay. He only received one letter from his brother again saying that he would stay with the family. Jack, being also trained as a mechanic, went to take a job in the Soviet Union at a coal mine. He then worked until 1941 at a railroad station. He also became a Russian citizen.

In May of 1941 he joined the Red Army in the military police. But in September, after Hitler broke the non-aggression treaty and invaded the Soviet Union, he was sent to the front near Kiev. Of the 8,000 men in his unit only 80 survived the German onslaught. He was then quickly captured and sent to a prison camp where 40,000 men were kept. Slowly they were starved to death, thousands were dying, and some men resorted to cannibalism. At this point, Jack and a Russian who was active in the Communist Party decided to make an escape attempt. (To gain the trust of Russians and Ukrainians he said he was Greek and not Jewish.) The dug a small tunnel under the fence. They were soon freed and ran for a mile to a small village where they discarded their uniforms and traded for civilian clothes. This began a long, 36-day journey across German occupied territory. By November 1941 they crossed the icy river that was the front at that time. A Russian patrol found them and after being interrogated they returned to the army.

Went to Siberia to train in the spring when the Germans began the offensive again. He went by train. They were retrained in military tactics, until one morning an officer said that they all would be sent to work instead. So he was shipped off again.

At this coalmining town, he met his future wife. Married in 1943. In 1944, all Polish people and other exiles were sent back to the reoccupied land back west. Settled in Russia first. (An area that was once Polish.) He found out that Poles killed his eldest brother two weeks before the liberation. Then they tried to get to the Palestine, because there was too much fear in live in Poland.

In January of 1950, he moved his family to Detroit, because it was easier than getting to Israel. His wife’s uncle lived in the city. Soon they overcame the language and got a job. The survivor community really bonded and it made the transition easier though there is always the reminder of the Holocaust.