(a.k.a. Marysia Kowalska, Marysia Dudek & Dr. Maria B. Orlowski)
Lodz (Poland), L'viv, Hucisko, Ranizow
Miriam Winter is the daughter of Tobiasz and Maita-Lana Winter, orthodox Jews, of Lodz, Poland. Her father owned a large clothing store. She had one brother, Josef, about 4-1/2 years younger than she. Miriam describes her life prior to the start of World War II in 1939 as a happy period with loving care by her parents. She had started school and by the age of 6, when the German invasion came, had learned to read and write. Following the start of the war the family moved, first to Warsaw and then to Ozarow, a small town south of Warsaw. She recalls having to wear the Star of David on her clothing, and the white armband with the blue star identifying her as a Jew.
At the age of 8, in 1941, her parents, foreseeing the extermination of the Jews by the Germans, placed her into the custody of a family friend, a tall, blond, non-Jewish-looking Jewish girl about 18 years old, named Cesia, to improve her chances of survival. On a train from Ozarow, Cesia who was also taking care of her 14 year old nephew, found a fellow passenger, Maryla Dudek, a Catholic Pole, who was willing to assume custody of Miriam. At the time Maryla did not know that Miriam was Jewish.
Miriam lived in hiding with Maryla in Lwow, but after being detected as being Jewish by some other children, they moved first to Czudek and then to Wola Rzedzinska. There she lived with a Catholic family, was raised as a Catholic, and attended a school run by Catholic nuns. She had found comfort and safety as a Catholic and had the desire to be baptized and receive communion. Her priest, who apparently suspected her true background, wouldn’t baptize her but in order not to expose her, devised a scam procedure to make it appear that she had fulfilled the requirements.
Nevertheless, she was again exposed by some of the village people and, therefore, fled to a neighboring village, Hucisko, where Maryla’s sister lived. She was then placed with a couple who were barrel makers in the nearby village of Stykow. After it was revealed in church that she had not been baptized and expecting repercussions, she fled back to Hucisko in 1943 where she stayed with Maryla’s sister, Zosia Rumak who was a fortune teller.
From Hucisko she was moved to Ranizow. It was there in the summer of 1944 that this area was liberated by the Russian Army.
During her stay with different people in the various villages, she was always required to do housework or attend to the cows in the fields and, except for the period in Wola Rzedzinski, did not go to school. All of the people she lived with were very poor and lived in one-room huts in an area so poor it was avoided by the German occupying army. Sometimes she slept in the barn. The ruse always was that her mother worked and could not take care of her.
After liberation, Miriam lived with Maryla in Lwow, where her name was changed from Kowalska to Dudek and her date of birth from June 1933 to September 1937, to make it more plausible for her to appear as Maryla’s daughter. Maryla was producing homemade vodka and Miriam was required to help sell it to Russian soldiers on the black market. Maryla met her husband to be Rysiu (Richard), a baker, and both joined the Polish army which took them to Lublin in the summer of 1944. In Lublin, Miriam was able to fulfill her burning desire to be baptized in December 1944.
When the war ended, they lived in Tworski near Proszkow in a rented room and Miriam was required to sell in the street and at the railroad station the pastries and cakes made by Rysiu. In October 1945, they moved to Zabkowice which was previously part of Germany. There Rysiu set up a bakery in which Miriam had to work as well as sell the products. Eventually she did start school again. She was mistreated, physically and emotionally, by Maryla and Rysiu and in 1948, at the age of 15, fled to Szczecin (Stettin) and while living in an orphanage enrolled in school which lead to a high school graduation in June 1951.
From 1951 to 1953 she attended a state-operated school training instructors for amateur theaters. The state paid for room and board. Subsequently she attended a theater school graduating in 1959.
Miriam Winter made no attempt after the end of the war to regain her real identity. She felt secure with her new life as a Catholic. Later, in Warsaw, she met Romek Orlowski whom she married in April 1963 and later gave birth to a son, Daniel, in 1964. Prior to her marriage she reluctantly admitted to her future husband that she was, in fact, Jewish. Mr. Orlowski readily accepted that fact. She, however, continued to keep her real identity a secret.
While working for a governmental agency, she became so upset at the anti-Israeli, anti-Jewish position of Poland in 1969 that, in an outburst of rage, she openly declared here Jewish heritage at a meeting. Refusing to do a retraction, she was fired from her job.
Realizing that there was no future in Poland, she and her husband applied for emigration. After several set-backs, they were able to leave in 1969 and went to Italy to await permission for entry into the United States. After 5-1/2 months they left and arrived in Boston in October 1969.
In the United States she had a second child, David, and when conditions permitted she continued her education resulting in a Ph.D. in theater from Michigan State University in 1992. She had reassumed her Jewish faith and raised both children in it resulting in their becoming B’nai Mitzvot at the age of 13. She is now a member of the local synagogue in Jackson, Michigan, her current home.
Her search to determine the fate of her family started in 1971,with a letter to a Polish newspaper in Israel. She discovered that Cesia, the young woman into whose care she was initially placed, lives in Israel. From Cesia she was able to obtain details of the events leading to her being placed with Maryla. She also found out from a survivor of Ozarow that her entire family was taken to the Treblinka extermination camp where all were murdered.
Overcoming her resentment against Maryla for being exploited, she nominated Maryla to Yad Vashem as a righteous person for hiding her and saving her life. Maryla was thus honored as a “Righteous among the Nations” and had a tree planted in the “Forest of the Righteous”’ in Jerusalem.
Miriam Winter is the author of “Trains”, a book published in 1997 by Kelton Press, Jackson, Michigan, which describes her experiences. She was recently invited by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, to a book signing in conjunction with a national meeting of hidden children survivors.
Date: August 19, 2003
Interviewer: Hans R. Weinmann
Length: 2 hours 34 minutes
Format: Video recording