Miriam Kominkowska was born in 1929 in Sompolno, Poland, where her father’s family had lived for generations. As a young girl, Miriam’s family moved through the Polish cities of Radziejow, Aleksandrow, and Lubranieć, where they were living when the Nazis invaded in 1939. Soon after the invasion the Nazis imposed harsh laws on all Jews. They were forced to wear yellow stars sewn onto their clothing. Miriam was forbidden from attending school. Soon the Nazis confiscated her father’s lumber business and the family was forced to live on the meager rations allotted to them.
In early 1941 the Nazis rounded up and deported all the men of working age in Lubranieć, including Miriam’s father to a slave labor camp in Poznań. Three months later Miriam, her mother, and her maternal grandparents were forced to board cramped cattle cars on a three-day transport to the Łodz Ghetto, where they endured harsh treatment, confinement, squalor and starvation. One year later, during a regular elimination roundup, the Nazis selected Miriam’s grandparents for a transport from the ghetto to the extermination camp Chelmno, where they were both murdered. In the ghetto, Miriam and her mother worked in a furniture factory until mid-1944, when they were forced into unbearably cramped cattle cars onto a transport to Auschwitz that lasted for three days. The two of them remained close until they were separated in the camp. Miriam never saw her mother again. From Auschwitz Miriam was taken to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, then to the Magdeburg slave labor camp, and back to Bergen-Belsen, where she was liberated by British troops on April 15th, 1945. She had contracted typhus and was barely conscious at the time. She says she “was at death’s door.”
After liberation Miriam slowly regained her health. She contacted her only living relative, an uncle in Portland, Oregon, who worked relentlessly with his wife to get Miriam on the first passenger ship to leave Europe following the Second World War (which left from Norway). She arrived in New York on November 26th, 1945. Her aunt and uncle travelled to New York to take her back to Portland, where Miriam has lived ever since. She established a family in Portland and did not speak much about her experiences until Ethiopian student Mulugeta Seraw was murdered in Portland in 1988. The event became the catalyst for Miriam to begin telling her story and educating audiences on the consequences of hatred and racism.