And here’s my profile of Mira Shelub, as it appeared in today’s Chronicle:
“German police murdered Mira Shelub’s mother during World War II; Mira, as a youth, lived two years in the Polish forest, fending off cold and lice and typhus and hunger until liberation by the Russians in 1945. These are not happy memories, and yet when Mira welcomes a visitor to her Stonestown neighborhood home to talk about them, she is bubbling with excitement.
Her face, with its tasteful eyeliner and fuchsia lipstick, remains squeezed in a bright smile; she strokes her interviewer’s hand, calls her “dear” as they enter her immaculate living room with its shag carpet. Mira sits in a chartreuse armchair, her tiny 5-foot-1 frame leaning forward with eagerness. She looks like she can hardly keep from rising.
“I like to talk about my story, because it’s the only time I can talk about my husband,” she says in her exuberant accent, with its richly rolling r’s and crisp t’s. “And besides, I am proud of our story. Because we did not go to death without doing anything. We fought the Nazis for a better tomorrow. We were young and brave, and we put up a fight.”
To Mira, her years with the Jewish partisan fighters are as much a tale of romance as a tale of survival and revenge. Mira met her future husband, Norman, a partisan leader who blew up trains and attacked German police stations, in the forest. They found a will to live, and to fight back, in each other.
It is not the kind of Harlequin novel love story young Mira Rostov would have imagined for herself when, in 1941, the Russian-German nonaggression pact collapsed. Mira’s home in the small northeast Polish town of Zdczieciol (now part of Belarus) was located in the newly formed Jewish ghetto.
Mira’s family had been six people living in four rooms; now four other families, 40 people, crowded in. By day, they and Mira were sent to work, for a while hauling rocks, then in a milk factory. Rumors of the Germans liquidating Jews in nearby towns began to circulate. “We told ourselves, ‘All right, that is just over there because they don’t work as hard as we do, but it could never happen here,’ ” Mira says. And yet her family built two hiding places, one behind a double wall in a chicken house. That’s where Shelub and her younger sister fled one night when shots began to ring out.”
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