Congrats to Mordechai Miller. He received an honorary diploma today as he was denied an education due to the Holocaust. Mr. Miller has inspired Smithtown students for years and it was great to recognize him today. #SCSD_HSW #SmithtownCSD pic.twitter.com/PiswpaZ60O— Mrs. Cone (@xtinacone) June 21, 2018
Mordechai Miller grew up in a Polish-Jewish family during World War II. He spent most of his days hiding in attics, trying to escape the Nazis.
He would go on days without having anything to eat, so getting an education was not even an option for him.
However, years later, his dream of earning a school diploma came true as he walked the stage in Smithtown High School West in New York, donning a blue gown and a graduation cap.
Eighty-seven-year-old Miller received an honorary high school diploma, along with a standing ovation from the crowd.
Miller, who began sharing his stories of survival during the Holocaust with Smithtown’s social studies students, said the appreciation was “very touching.”
“It was a whole big thing,” Miller said. “It was hundreds of student graduates ? and then me. An 87-year-old graduate.”
“I appreciated it very much, that I got some recognition,” he added. “I’m not used to these things, coming from my background.”
Miller was born near Warsaw in 1931 and could only finish one year of formal education before the Nazis invaded Poland eight years later.
His family was compelled to move into a Jewish ghetto where Miller’s father built an attic for them to hide if the Nazis were to crackdown on them, which they did. Neighbors, who were found, were taken to extermination camps.
Moving around, trying to find new places to hide, the Miller family once had to live in woman’s attic. It was so small, it looked like a “tiny grave.” Miller’s mother refused to stay there for long.
“I’m going to be buried for a long time, I don’t want to be buried alive,” she said.
They would camp out in forests, trying to escape the Nazis, weathering rain and snow.
“Our eyelids were frozen,” he said.
When Germany lost the war in 1945, Miller’s father started a business in Poland, only to be forced out of the country when anti-Jewish violence broke out again.
In 1956, Miller moved to America after living in Israel with his family. He made a life for himself and refused to let people feel sorry for him.
“I’m OK. I speak a few languages; I read and write in some languages. I can hold on my own,” he said. “I read a lot of books. That was my education.”
Miller now has four children, six grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.
Losing his childhood to unfathomable hardships, Miller wants students these days to “appreciate” what they have.
“I tell them how lucky they are, that they have beautiful schools, libraries. All the knowledge is right in front of them, they just have to look it up and take it,” he said. “That’s what I tell them. To appreciate what they have.”
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