Ben and Bernice Muler interview for the Faces of the Holocaust Series
MS-215: Emmanuel Ringelblum Collection
Ben and Bernice Muler were both natives of Poland but met as exiles in Russia. Both lost nearly all their relatives, but escaped being sent to concentration camps by fleeing behind Russian lines when the Soviets invaded Poland to attack Germany. Ben was drafted by the Soviet army as a laborer. Bernice was among thousands of Jewish refugees sent east into the Ural Mountains as the Germans advanced. They met there near the end of the war and married, and decided to come to the United States because their home communities had been obliterated and because Ben had relatives in America.
The son of a newspaper printer in Wilno, Poland (now Vilnius, Lithuania), Ben knew about Nazi antisemitism long before the war. In 1939, as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, Wilno was occupied by the Soviets. But in 1941 the Nazis occupied the city, and Ben fled with some friends. His family remained behind, convinced that the Germans would not harm them. He never saw his family again. From Minsk, he was recruited into a Russian labor corps and worked near the Volga River until that region, too, was occupied by the Germans. He fled into the Ural Mountains, where he worked as a lumberjack -and also met his wife Bernice. At the end of the war he was permitted to return to Wilno, but found no one he knew. He learned later that his mother had been shot and his father had been sent to a camp in Estonia, where he caught typhoid and was burned to death with other sick prisoners in a human bonfire. He did, however, eventually find a sister who had escaped into Russia. He came to the United States and worked as a printer in Jackson, Mississippi; later he found a better job at the Dayton Daily News. He retired in 1986.
Born Bronia Fogel in Poland in 1925, Bernice was 14 when the war broke out and her village came under German control. Departing Russian troops gave her family and neighbors thirty minutes to decide whether they wanted to be evacuated to Russia. Knowing their possible fate under Nazi rule, the Fogels decided to go. They went to an uncle's house in Vladimir, but in 1940 were sent on to a work camp in the Urals and later settled in a nearby town. Bernice was able to attend school for the next few years but also worked twelve hours a day. Her father died in 1944 for lack of medical treatment, but she, her brother and sister continued to live with their mother in a one-room apartment. Life was very hard, but they knew that they would not have survived in Poland. After the war Ben and Bernice were permitted to leave the Soviet Union and came to the United States in 1949. They have two children and four grandchildren. This interview was conducted circa 1985-1987 for the Faces of the Holocaust, a series created as a classroom resource and curriculum supplement.
Ben and Bernice Muler
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