Film, play tell Shoah survivor’s story as hidden child in France

Rachel Goldman Miller looks through ‘Beyond Me: A Song Cycle in the Key of Survival,’ a book about her life story, which will be brought to the stage Aug. 21 at the Jewish Community Center.Photo: Yana Hotter

BY PATRICIA CORRIGAN, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Stories from Rachel Goldman Miller’s life – a life filled with much loss but also much love – are coming to a movie theater and a stage here next month.

Miller, a native of France born to Polish parents, lost 93 family members in the Holocaust. She lost her son Mark to AIDS. She lost her husband, Milton, after 47 years of marriage. In 1995, Miller was diagnosed with breast cancer. Yet she prevails.

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On Aug. 4, “La Rafle (The Round Up)” will be shown at 7 p.m. at the Landmark Cinema in Plaza Frontenac. The film is a period drama about the collaboration between the government of Vichy, France, and the Nazis, who in 1942 deported 13,000 Jews – Miller’s family members among them.

Then on Aug. 21, “Beyond Me: A Song Cycle in the Key of Survival” will be performed by Suzanne Tanner Meisel, the playwright, at 4 p.m. in the Mirowitz Performing Arts Center at the Jewish Community Center. The multi-media production is the story of Miller’s life.

“Watching both will be moving for me,” says Miller, 78, who lives in Chesterfield. “But telling my story is my way of keeping my family alive.” Both events are co-sponsored by the Jewish Film Festival and the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.

The film, made in 2010, has not been shown previously in St. Louis. “This film came to our attention last fall, and we asked the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center if they were interested in working with us to present it,” says Zelda Sparks, head of the St. Louis Jewish Film Festival. “We naturally talked about Rachel, and we are very pleased that she is introducing the film, because it adds a personal element to this story.”

Miller, who screened the film early in July, knows what she will say at the screening of the film. “I’m going to say I wasn’t there when my family was taken away, but I know what happened, because I was told later,” Miller says. “My father was already dead when my mother sent me away three days before she and my sister and brothers were taken. I was angry – I thought she didn’t love me. She did. She tried to save my life.”

When she first watched “La Rafle” earlier this month, Miller learned something new. “I had not known that the Germans did not want to take children under 16 or that the French told the Germans to take whole families because the French were concerned about what to do with the children left behind,” Miller says. “That shows that the French are just as responsible as the Germans. This is what I will talk about.”

“Beyond Me” has been performed 10 times to date, including at the St. Louis History Museum two years ago. Other venues have been in Los Angeles and Westport, Conn.

Meisel, the playwright, was a friend of Miller’s son, Mark, who died in 1992. “He was 35,” says Miller. “The loss of my son was a second Holocaust.”

Miller met Meisel as Mark was dying. “Mark was a bon vivant whose friends always called him for information on restaurants and theater,” she recalls. “Suzanne had gone to Paris on her honeymoon, and she came to tell Mark about the restaurants she had visited.”

Meisel worked with Mark at Warner Brothers in Los Angeles. She was a paralegal; he was an attorney. After Mark’s death, Meisel organized the making of an AIDS quilt panel for him. When she learned Rachel’s story, it inspired “a wellspring of thought, compassion and song,” Meisel later wrote. Of “Beyond Me,” Miller notes, “Suzanne is an extremely talented young woman, and all I can do is give her accolades for telling my story.”

With a lot of help, Miller says, she has found peace and moved forward. Some of that help has come from her son Neil and daughter-in-law, Marcy, and her grandchildren, Gena Rose, 25, and Julia Kate, 21. Marcy and Neil will attend the film and the play, on hand to provide emotional support for Miller.

Often, it is Miller who provides emotional support for others. Two or three times each month, she speaks at the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center, and she also gives talks at local colleges and high schools. Time after time, after hearing Miller’s story, people approach her. Some want to be photographed with her. Some want to embrace her.

“I let them know that I am OK. Then I say that I hope they will remember they met a Holocaust survivor,” says Miller. “If just one of them remembers meeting me, I am doing my job, doing what I am supposed to be doing.”

‘Beyond Me’

WHAT: Multimedia play presented by the HMLC, JCC in partnership with local non-profit groups and underwritten by Michael and Carol Staenberg

WHEN: 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 21

WHERE: JCC Carl and Helene Mirowitz Performing Arts & Banquet Hall.

HOW MUCH: General ticket price is $18 – or mitzvah price is $36 (a ticket plus a contribution). Register online at www.hmlc.org

‘La Rafle (The Round Up)’

WHAT: Special film presentation the by St. Louis Jewish Film Festival in partnership with the Holocaust Museum and Learning Center

WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 4

WHERE: Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema

HOW MUCH: tickets are $12 and can be purchased through www.brownpapertickets.com