Book mixing novel, memoir tells local survivor’s story

Miriam’s Way

BY ROBERT A. COHN, Editor-in-Chief Emeritus

Writer Cissy Lacks has shared the true-life experiences of Holocaust survivor Miriam Kenisberg Poster of St. Louis in a vivid memoir, “Miriam’s Way” (self-published, Beanie Books, $9.95, paperback). The book describes Kenisberg Poster’s experiences as a teenage girl surviving the Holocaust by living in the forests of Poland. 

In the book, Kenisberg Poster is given the name Miriam Kornitsky. The device of a fictional name gives Lacks the flexibility to tell Kenisberg Poster’s story in a novelistic, yet historical, manner.

Lacks takes readers to a warm day in early September 1941, when Miriam and her father, Nathan, were walking in the countryside near her home in Vilna, Poland. Her father stopped and told her that soon German troops would be arriving. He tells Miriam that he and his wife had decided to send Miriam away. Miriam had previously seen her brother Jacob taken away by Russian soldiers. (Readers learn that he was taken by Russian soldiers to be pressed into labor so that Russian men could fight in the war.) 

“Now she was being sent away because of German soldiers,” Lacks writes. “Her brother never returned, and no matter what her father said, she knew that he thought that she would not return either.”

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Later, Miriam overhears her father talking to her cousin Sonia, discussing the safest places to go and “deciding together that the forest was the only alternative.” Going to join the throngs of refugees in the choked streets would only assure that they would be captured. Nathan’s parting words to his beloved daughter before she and Sonia set off for the forests is another lie delivered in a tender voice:

“Miriam, my only daughter, don’t worry. The war won’t last for more than a few days, and then you’ll be back.”

For the rest of the emotional story, we accompany Miriam on her journey through the forests near Lublin. She recalls that she sometimes coped with her fear of the dark forest by pretending that she was playing “a game of hide and seek,” but by this stage of her story the stakes were much higher than who would win a children’s game: It was a matter of life and death.

The book incorporates into the narrative extensive research by Lacks, who has a doctorate in American Studies and a master’s degree in broadcasting and may be familiar to some readers. 

In 1996, she received the PEN/Newman’s Own Award, an annual award from 1993-2006 honoring a U.S. resident who defended First Amendment rights at personal risk. Berkeley High School administrators fired Lacks from her post as an English teacher in March 1995 after she allowed students to use four-letter words and racial epithets in a class drama assignment. 

Lacks met Kenisberg Poster some years back at the Jewish Community Center. In the course of their conversation, Kenisberg Poster said that she had heard that Lacks was a writer and that she wanted to share her story.

“I listened, and I was moved by what she told me,” Lacks writes. “Her experiences revealed details of World War II history that were new to me, and I wanted to know more. Further research confirmed for me that there was a story in the forests that needed to be shared.”

Lacks brings Kenisberg Poster’s story vividly to life through the almost painterly descriptions of the deceptively beautiful forest, juxtaposed with the pitch-black dread of the horrible fate that awaited Miriam and Sonia every stop of the way.