Driving through the winding, tree-lined roads of Ann Arbor, Michigan, I looked forward to finally meeting Miriam Brysk. During the previous year, I’d had the honor of working as Miriam’s editor on both her memoir, Amidst the Shadows of Trees, and her Holocaust-Art Education book, The Stones Weep. We both were looking forward to our first face-to-face meeting. I turned into the driveway of her beautiful contemporary home, and saw her waving excitedly from the front door. As she greeted me with warm, happy hugs, what struck me immediately were her whimsical smile, and her eyes that held deep secrets. This unique combination provided hints to Miriam’s soul.
As we entered her bright, artful home, Miriam introduced me to her husband Henry, who is a retired physicist. We then sat at their kitchen table for refreshments and conversation. Miriam then set about showing me her astonishing artwork: a cutting-edge combination of computer technology and photography, which brings the viewer an understanding of history within a personal context.
Despite having had her early education postponed by the war until she was twelve years old, Miriam became a university medical school professor. In 1967, she earned her Ph.D. in 1967 in Biological Sciences from Columbia University, and went on to a career as a professor of dermatology; microbiology and immunology; and human biological chemistry. She has published eighty scholarly articles. Following retirement, her subsequent incarnation as a highly respected artist has resulted in her work being displayed at Yad Vashem, as well as in numerous galleries and in over twenty-five exhibits. How did the determination and maturity of a little girl, who spent her young years living in bomb shelters, and then with the partisans in the Lipiczany Forest, demonstrate resistance to the Nazis? Even at the young age of six, Miriam’s self-discipline, adaptability, and ability to follow orders displayed a maturity well beyond her years. If she was told to stay silent for hours, that’s what she did. If she was told to pretend she wasn’t Jewish, that’s also what she did. This maturity figured prominently in both her survival, and the survival of those around her. Coupled with her exceptional intellect and determination, Miriam’s maturity would facilitate not only her extraordinary recovery from the horror and deprivation of her childhood, but a career as a well-known and highly respected scientist.
Despite the passage of seventy years, Miriam’s ability to convey the constant shock, terror, and confusion that had permeated her early years, provides a unique perspective on the individual, very personal impact of the Nazis. That she was able at such a tender age, to maintain self-discipline, follow complex directions, and even help others, is a testimony to the spirit of Jewish resistance that was inherent in even the very young.