Rachel Goldman Miller recalls a happy life as a small child in Paris. She was born the youngest of four children in 1933 and was the only child in her family born in France.
“My family came from Poland. My father was a barber and my mother was a housewife,” Goldman said. The family originally came from Warsaw, Poland, but decided to immigrate to France because of rising antisemitism. Both of Miller’s parents had siblings in the city, and they thought it would be a safe place to raise their children near family.
That all started to change in 1939.
“It was a Sunday morning and I was sitting on a buffet by the window, and I hear my father say to my mother, ‘it’s the beginning of doom.’ That was the day Germany invaded Poland, September 1, 1939,” Miller said. “Why, at the age of six, that registered, I don’t know. But it did.”
Miller said that because she was so young, she quickly more or less forgot about that conversation until Hitler and his army marched into Paris on June 14,1940.
“Marshal Petain (the Chief of State of Vichy France) made a deal with Hitler,” Miller said. “They (the Nazis) would not bomb us. They (the French) would welcome the Germans with open arms. So they did. They gave him flowers. They gave him candy — like he was the biggest hero in the world.”
She said as a small child, she did not quite understand what was happening. She was just excited to watch the parade.
“I ran downstairs and I wiggled myself in front of everybody so I could see the parade. When I saw the parade I became frightened, and I started to cry. All I could say was, ‘I’m afraid.’” Miller said. “When I saw them and the way they walked — I know in 1940 we did not have robots — but they were robots. The precision in which they walked. The way they were on their motorcycles and their horses, it was so frightening. When I think about it I still get the goose pimples.”
Life went on as normal for another year until her father was picked up and sent to a work camp. The Nazis then started looking for her brothers.
“My mother hid my two brothers under the bed and put an enamel tub in front of them,” Miller said. “I’m sure the inspector that came up must have seen them, but decided not to see them on that day. So that day my father was taken away and my Uncle Leon was taken away.”
Both her father and her uncle were sent to Drancy Internment Camp. Both died at 2 p.m. Tuesday, December 30, 1941.
“They were both murdered. They were experimented on. They were injected with gas,” Miller said. “They were the first Jews to die in France under German occupation. They had a funeral of 1,500 people. We did not know 1,500 people.”
As conditions continued to deteriorate in Paris, Rachel was sent to the countryside to live as “Christine.” Miller’s older sister, Sabine, was supposed to join her, but she never made it. Sabine along with her brothers and mother were picked up and sent to Auschwitz.
From this point she moved from place to place in hiding. At one point she went back to Paris to live with her aunt, and she happened to be in town the day the Nazis were looting her family’s apartment.
She and her aunt managed to convince the officers in charge to let them in to get family photos.
“So as a result, I am one of the very few children survivors who has pictures of her family,” Miller said. “I sometimes wonder how I had the presence of mind at 9 years old to get the pictures. I left my doll, but I got the pictures.”
In 1945, Miller’s aunt sent her to an orphanage with 60 other children whose parents had been taken away. Miller said that of the 60 children in the orphanage, only three parents lived through the war.
When the war ended, Miller met an American soldier who asked her to come live with him in the United States. She said he began molesting her when she was 11 years old. The abuse would continue for another nine months.
When they got to the United States, the soldier’s wife did not want the young Miller to live with the family, so she was passed around to foster homes until she married.
Miller would become the mother to three children, two daughters and a son. Her husband and all of her children became attorneys.
She only learned of her family’s ultimate fate within the past decade.
“When the Soviets liberated Auschwitz, they took all the papers back with them,” Miller said. And added that the Red Cross went to Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall and got the documents from the camp. The documents were released earlier this decade.
There were death certificates for both of her brothers that claimed they died due to various illnesses. There were no death certificates for her mother or her sister. Miller said, this means they likely went straight to the gas chambers upon arriving at Auschwitz.
In all, Miller lost 93 family members to the Holocaust. But she said many in her family fought every step of the way.
“I’m very proud to say that my family fought the Germans very early on in the war,” Miller said. “I hope that if I’d been old enough, I would have been brave enough to do that, too.”

Now, she is doing just that — by keeping a promise she made to herself as a small child.

“I promised myself when the war was over, I would speak out,” Miller said.

She’s now speaking out to students and other groups across the country.