Obituary: Sabina Miller

Sole survivor of her family: the woman who told her story to the world


The only talisman from her happy childhood which Sabina Miller kept till the day she died was her mother’s gift of a red tartan cardigan. One day, she would wrap it around her youngest granddaughter.

One of the four children of Sarah (née Trylerer) and shopkeeper Abraham Najfeld, she and the family were moved, after the Nazi invasion, into the Warsaw Ghetto, where her parents died of typhus. Sabina also had typhus but she recovered, whereupon she had a vivid image of her mother standing at her bed, saying: “You will survive.” Dream or hallucination, her mother’s words came true.

Her wartime experiences led Sabina, who has died aged 95, to become a Holocaust educator with the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust (HMDT). Her mission: to warn against the dangers of hatred and bigotry. Last year, she received a British Empire Medal for services to education.

Flashback to the Second World War: the 20-year-old, starving orphan of the Warsaw Ghetto escaped with her younger brother David, walking past bodies covered with newspaper, hiding her yellow armband under her raincoat. They reached an aunt in the country but heard nothing of the fate of their older sister Ester, who attempted to cross the Russian border, nor of her oldest brother Chaim, who remained in the ghetto.

Sabina found work with other Jewish girls on a neighbouring farm, ever aware of trucks seeking escaping Jews. A friendly overseer alerted them: “I don’t want to see you dead. Run to the woods”. Amid several acts of kindness that she would remember all her life, a villager showed her a hiding hole dug by the departing Partisans. It was the winter of 1942-3 and she and another girl, Ruszka, clambered down into a space barely big enough to lie down in.

Then Sabina received a postcard from Ester via her aunt in Sokolow. “I am on the train,” it read. “I don’t know where I am being taken to. Please God you will survive and I hope someone will pick up the card and send it to you.” Even though Sabina heard nothing more from Ester, it was of some consolation that, in another act of kindness, someone had stamped it and sent it to her. She put the postcard and home photographs in a small bag – but it was stolen from her hole in the woods.

Lice-ridden and starving, the two girls went begging but were advised by local farmers it would attract less attention if they separated. Then suddenly Ruska disappeared. Sabina’s many attempts to find her failed. At the time, Polish girls were called up for enforced labour on German farms and Sabina assumed the various identities of reluctant girls, but each time the Gestapo noticed the condition of her frost-bitten feet – which eventually led to the amputation of her toe. She was sent to Pawiak prison in Warsaw where Jews and political prisoners were held.

Interrogated by the Nazis, she refused to reveal her Jewish faith, helped by Polish women prisoners who taught her the Catholic mass. In late 1943, she was finally sent to Germany as a farm girl, continuing to cling to a series of false identities until Poland was liberated in 1945. Even after the war, Sabina believed she was the last Jew alive in Europe. In a displaced persons camp in Papenburg, Germany, she was asked if she was Jewish, and routinely replied “No”. She was still convinced that to say “yes” was a death sentence.

In the DP camp she met Arthur Miller, a Polish soldier attached to the British Army. The pair got married in 1947 and came to Britain, where he had the right to resettle and he built a fashion business from a market stall. They had two children, Stuart and Sandra but, after 30 years of marriage, they divorced.

Some years ago, Sabina returned to Poland for the first time with her son and daughter and recited Kaddish at Auschwitz. She attempted to discover the fate of her siblings and Ruszka, but finally had to accept they had been murdered. She still regularly phoned the Jewish cemetery in case restorers had found their names or those of her grandparents.

In her media photographs, you see a face touched with irony, about to break into a smile that expresses a loss she had fought to come to terms with. Her family and Ruszka were not simply dead; they had become missing persons. It is the fast disappearing Jewish story of her generation.

Sabina spent her later years volunteering with HMDT and working with the media to build awareness of the Holocaust and other genocides. Through her work, she addressed thousands of people every year. In 2015, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, she played a key role in HMDT’s Memory Makers’ art project, for which she was recognised with a Freedom of the City of London award.

But as if her life had not been beset by enough tragedy, Sabina suffered another terrible loss when her son Stuart died in a motorcycle accident in 2011. She is survived by her daughter Sandra, six granddaughters and seven great-grandchildren.



Sabina Miller: born June 20, 1922. Died March 18, 2018

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