Beliefnet
Inspiration Report

9788045101_014c87ce66_cOn June 21, 2018, Mordechai Miller finally achieved his dream of graduating from school. Along with the rest of the class of 2018, Miller donned a navy blue cap and gown, walked across the stage erected in the center of Smithtown High School West’s football field, shook hands with the school’s faculty and posed for pictures. Unlike most of Smithtown’s graduates, however, Miller was not a fresh faced teen looking forward to summer vacation. Instead, Miller was an 87 year old man and a survivor of the Holocaust.

Born near Warsaw in 1931, Miller had only completed one year of formal education before the Nazis invaded Poland and forced his family to move from their small town of Jablonna to a Jewish ghetto in the nearby town of Legionowo. Miller’s father built a hiding space in the attic of their house. It was this space that saved the Miller family’s lives when the ghetto was liquidated. Neighbors who were unable to hide or escape were taken to the Treblinka extermination camp.

Miller’s family spent the next several years running and hiding from the Nazis. They spent time in a bunker, a Polish woman’s attic and camped in a forest amid rain and snow. After the war ended in 1945, life began to return to normal. Miller’s father opened a business in Poland, but anti-Semitic violence once again raged throughout Poland. After 40 Jews were killed in a pogram, the Miller family emigrated to Israel. In 1956, Miller immigrated to America where he married and began a business dealing with truck parts. He married, had four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren, but he never forgot his dream of finishing his education.

It was through Smithtown High School West, where Miller shared his story with students, that he finally achieved his dream. “It was a whole big thing,” Miller said. “It was hundreds of student graduates, and then me. An 87 year old graduate.” Miller was touched by the standing ovation he received when he was handed his diploma. “I appreciated it very much, that I got some recognition,” he said. “I’m not used to these things, coming from my background.”

Despite the horrors in his past, Miller told students, “Don’t feel sorry for me…I’m okay. I speak a few languages, I read and write in some languages. I can hold my own,” he said. “I read a lot of books. That was my education.” That does not mean he does not want students to take advantage of the opportunities he was so cruelly denied. “I tell them how lucky they are, that they have beautiful schools, libraries. All the knowledge is right in front of them, they just have to look it up and take it,” he said. “That’s what I tell them. To appreciate what they have.” Hopefully, Miller’s fellow graduates will take his advice and take advantage of the opportunities they have been lucky enough to receive.

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