- Artifact Geography
- Washington, DC United States
- Miles Lerman (born Shmuel Milek Lerman) is the son of Israel and Jochevet Lerman. He was born January 20, 1920 in Tomaszow Lubelski, where both his parents ran successful, large businesses and were among the most prosperous members of the Jewish community. Israel Lerman owned and leased a string of flour mills throughout eastern Poland (including one in Belzec, across the road from what became the death camp). He also ran separate wholesale liquor and gasoline businesses. Jochevet owned and managed a wholesale import company that specialized in tea, coffee and spices. Shmuel had four older siblings: Shlomo (b. 1904), Esther (b. 1906), Peshe (b. 1908) and Yona (b. 1910). He grew up in a religiously observant, Hasidic home. Israel and Jochevet were prominent members and financial backers of the Belzer Hasidim, who often hosted members of the rebbe's extended family. Despite his parents unwavering adherence to Jewish law and custom, Shmuel (like most of his siblings) moved away from religious tradition in his youth. He joined the socialist Zionist Hashomer Hatzair youth movement and participated in the local Jewish sports clubs, Maccabi and Hapoel. Shmuel spent the last two years of high school (1936-1938) at a secular, Hebrew junior college in Lvov. It was his intention to immigrate to Palestine (as his brother Yona had done in 1934) after graduation and enroll at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. However, his plans went awry after the sudden death of his father from a stroke in 1938. Though he had only a year and a half left to graduate, the family insisted Shmuel return to Tomaszow to help his mother. While his older brother Shlomo took over his father's businesses, Shmuel helped his mother with the import business. On the second day of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939, the Lerman family home was destroyed by a German bomb. Shmuel then took his mother and moved to Lvov, in what became the Soviet sector of Poland. Though they had lost all of their possessions, they were able to scrape together enough money to rent a small apartment. Shlomo and Peshe and their families soon moved to Lvov as well. Shmuel found work as an assistant manager in the state office of supply. In 1940 both Shlomo and Peshe and their families were deported to the remote regions of Soviet Asia. His mother would have suffered the same fate, but Shmuel was able to pull her off the train at the last minute after prevailing upon a NKVD officer at the railroad station. Shmuel and his mother lived through the Lvov pogrom (June 30-July 3, 1941) that took place just prior to the formal takeover of the city by the Germans. At the time, Shmuel was working for the railroad authority and had a certificate of employment from the Wehrmacht. Not trusting that the document would protect him from the roving bands of Ukrainian nationalists, who were grabbing Jewish men off the street and from their homes and shooting them en masse in the prison courtyard, Shmuel went into hiding for a few days in the basement of his apartment building. When the situation settled down, he went back to work for the railroad, where he was now paid only a token amount. As of July 8, Shmuel and all Jews 14 years and older were forced to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David. Later that summer, amid the confiscation of Jewish property, synagogue burnings and cemetery desecration, the Germans established a Jewish council, labor bureau and police force, and on November 8, set up a ghetto in the Zamarstynow and Kleparow quarters of the city. In December 1941 Shmuel was stopped on his way home from work by a member of the SS and a Ukrainian auxiliary, who tore up his work certificate and forced him onto a truck with 60-70 other Jewish men. He was taken to the Viniki labor camp, where he was put to work building a highway between Lvov and Viniki. To obtain gravel for the roadwork the Jewish forced laborers were instructed to dismantle the ancient Lvov Jewish cemetery and break up its tombstones. Shmuel got word to his mother about his whereabouts through a friend of his girlfriend Lucia. In mid-March 1942 the first large-scale action took place in the Lvov ghetto, resulting in the deportation of 15,000 Jews to the Belzec death camp. Shmuel's mother was among those taken. She did not survive. Lucia, who managed to evade the round-up, smuggled her way to Viniki and delivered the news to Shmuel. Subsequently, Lucia was captured and sent to the Janowska concentration camp. One day in the spring of 1942 Shmuel and four other prisoners were instructed to move deeper into the quarry they were working in to find a harder type of stone. They were guarded by two Ukrainians. Realizing they had an opportunity to gain their freedom, the five prisoners jumped their guards and killed them with their picks and shovels. After taking their weapons, the Jews fled into the forest. Within a period of six to eighth weeks, Shmuel and his group had gathered around them 200-250 Jews, including some women and children. The group organized itself into a partisan family camp. Shmuel and several other young men took command of the group. The Jewish partisans developed a loose alliance with local bands of Polish Home Army partisans, who sought their support against anti-Polish, Ukrainian resistance forces operating in the area. For 23 months Shmuel lived as a partisan in the forests, surviving by trading with, or stealing from, local villagers and raiding German supply depots. After the liberation, Shmuel returned to Tomaszow, but was warned to leave before he was killed. He then went to Lublin, where he established a leather business with a fellow survivor, Leon Feldhandler from Izbica, who had played a leadership role in the Sobibor uprising. However, shortly thereafter, Feldhandler was killed by a Pole. Shmuel then decided to move on. He settled in Lodz, where he opened a nightclub with a friend. There, he met his future wife, Rozalia (Krysia) Laks, who came in one evening with another young man. After dating for a time they were married in Lodz by the chief rabbi of the Polish army. While in Lodz, Shmuel made contact with his brother Yona in Palestine and learned that Shlomo and Peshe had survived, while Esther and her family had not. Shmuel made use of his contacts in the Polish government to establish a business in which he supplied certain foodstuffs (which he purchased on the black market) to the government to feed its workers in exchange for textiles, which he sold on the open market. After a time, Shmuel and Rozalia decided to leave for Germany so as to be able to get to Palestine. Taking Rozalia's younger sister Regina with them, they fled to Berlin, where they found a temporary home in the Schlachtensee displaced persons camp. Fear of ending up in a detention camp in Cyprus, led the young couple to abandon their plans to join the illegal immigration to Palestine, and to apply for visas to the U.S. They sailed from Hamburg to New York aboard the SS Marine Perch in February 1947. Upon their arrival in the U.S. Shmuel (Milek) and Rozalia (Krysia) Lerman adopted the names Miles and Chris Lerman. After living and working for the better part of a year in New York, the Lermans bought a poultry farm in Vineland, N.J. They stayed there for four years before returning to the city and establishing a heating oil business. In 1980 Miles was appointed by President Jimmy Carter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, which became the governing body of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In this capacity, he directed the International Relations Committee and served as national chairman of the Campaign to Remember, leading the initiative to raise the funds needed to build the Museum. He was reappointed to the Council by Presidents Reagan and Bush, and ultimately became its chairman. As a Council member, he negotiated agreements with foreign governments that brought archival materials and artifacts to the Museum. He was also a founding member of the Council's Committee on Conscience, which was established in 1995 to focus attention on, and help stop, contemporary acts of genocide.
[Source: Lerman, Miles. "Interview with Miles Lerman," July 17, 2001, U.S. Holocaust Museum Oral History Project.]