Miryam Nik was born into an affluent family, as Marila Szperling. Her father owned a small bank in Krakow. The war reduced them to poverty, they embarked on a nomadic journey in the forests and the snow-covered mountains, relentlessly seeking shelter. The journey ended in the Krakow ghetto. Miryam's father died, and her brother, who was nine years younger, was sent to Auschwitz on the last children's transport from the Krakow ghetto. He did not survive. Miryam spent the rest of the war with her mother.
In 1943, the entire population of the ghetto was sent to the Plaszow camp. In the fall of 1944 they were sent to Auschwitz. In 1945, they were part of a death march of dozens of kilometers deep into Germany. Miryam says it was her mother who kept them alive, and together. No matter what the situation, she found a way out. "Whenever they separated us, she escaped. She would be beaten, but would find a way to join me. One evening in Plaszow she was seized and moved to the camp designated for transport. I ran to everyone I knew, trying to find her. The next day she returned and said she had dug all night with her nails - she always kept her fingernails long - under the barbed wire fence and had managed to get through.
"My mother was everyone's caregiver in the war," Nik continued. "She was the initiator, the organizer, the one who took care of things. In Birkenau we were transferred to the death block. There was only one way out from there. But my mother, in her usual fashion, said, 'There is a window. If we make a pyramid of women, we will be able to get out.' But we quickly discovered that there was no one there to rely on or to make a pyramid with. In the end, we were removed from that place, because a fresh shipment arrived that went straight to death, and the locals were left alone for the time being."
From the outset, in the ghetto, Nik and her mother understood that it was important to look good. Not too sick, not too scrawny. To hold one's head as high as possible. "Until we came to Auschwitz, my mother was, in my view, the very picture of health. She looked good, she had good teeth, blue eyes. But there, suddenly, a woman of 50 was considered old. She was only 47, but very thin. The selections were done naked, on the run, and I was worried that she would be sent to her death. There was a cleaning man there who whispered to us before the selection, 'Behave nicely, because Dr. Mengele is very sensitive to good behavior.' We had the rouge with us. We smeared a bit on and waited. When Mengele passed us, he stopped my mother and asked her, 'What is your profession?' 'A painter,' she said, and it was true: she really was an artist."
Mengele liked Nik's mother and allowed her and her daughter to live. They were transferred from Birkenau to Auschwitz and assigned to work as artists at a printing press, where female prisoners created copies of works by famous artists. "I don't know if it was because of the rouge that Mother looked better than the others," Nik says, "but the fact is that he didn't stop next to anyone else."
At the end of the war they went to Paris. "We knew there was no one and nothing to go back to Poland for. In Ravensbruck Camp I spoke with two French women and told them that before the war my parents had intended to send me to Paris to study art. They advised us to go to Paris and say that before the war we lived in Abbeville, a town in northern France that was totally destroyed, so our story could not be verified. In April we were liberated from the death march in Leipzig, and when the Americans asked where we wanted to go, we said Abbeville."
Miryam finally got to study art in Paris, and married Azriel Nik, from Lvov. In 1949 they immigrated to Israel together with their daughter, Sigalit. In Israel, Nik became an art history teacher, and later a curator. In addition to professional publications, she has published nine works of fiction, including "In the Kingdom of the Absurd" (Defense Ministry), short stories about the Holocaust. "Hamlet's Secret Diary" (Tzivonim Publishing) appeared a few months ago. It relates the story of the prince of grief, who in the kingdom of shadows in the world to come becomes a literature teacher who settles accounts with his creator, William Shakespeare, arguing that he could have produced a more impressive, more rounded character