Esther Milich Family Collection
Scope and Content Note
The Esther Milich Family Collection documents the immigration of Esther Milich and her brother Nathan Berkowicz as well as her marriage and the fate of Berkowicz family members in Europe. Much of the correspondence in the collection pertains to restitution for the siblings for the losses they suffered during the Holocaust. Users of this collection should note that most family members used varying spellings of their names on their official and other documents: the Berkowicz family also used the spelling Berkowitz; Mojsze Berkowicz was also called Moritz or Moysze; Natan Berkowicz was known as Nathan Berkowitz after his American naturalization; Saul Milich was born Szyja Milich and also called Sol and used the surname Miller, as did his mother Yetta, also known as Jenta; Esther Milich was also called Edda or Edith in family correspondence. The spellings used in this finding aid are based upon the forms most often used in family members' passports, naturalization certificates, or birth and marriage certificates.
Family members' papers will be found in Series I. This series includes official documents such as passports, naturalization certificates, and birth, death or marriage certificates, but also includes more personal documents as well. The series includes papers of members of the Milich and Berkowicz families. Included is the German family register (Stammbuch) for the Berkowicz family and an article about the family written by Marvin Milich. A diary by Esther Milich during Saul Milich's first months away in the army in 1942 is also present, as are records of his military service.
Series II primarily holds correspondence between family members but also includes some documents found with the correspondence. Most prominent are the letters of Pesia Berkowicz in Brussels to her children and brothers in New York, but the series also contains letters of other relatives and friends and some greeting cards. Pesia's letters focus on aid in getting Mojsze released from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp, but also provide advice to her children, or address financial matters or the shipping of possessions.
Further family correspondence and some official documents can be found among the restitution correspondence of Series III. Although Series III primarily consists of correspondence on the filing of restitution or indemnification claims for Esther Milich and Nathan Berkowicz, it includes some of these earlier documents with its later correspondence. Other correspondence in Series III relates to the payment of claims.
- Creation: 1919-2017
- Creation: Majority of material found within 1930s-1960s
- Milich, Marvin (Person)
Language of Materials
The collection is in German and English, with small amounts of Hebrew and French.
Open to researchers.
Collection is digitized. Follow the links in the Container List to access the digitized materials.
There may be some restrictions on the use of the collection. For more information, contact:
Leo Baeck Institute, Center for Jewish History, 15 West 16th Street, New York, NY 10011
On January 17, 1922 the merchant Mojsze (also called Moritz) Fajwal Berkowicz married Pesia Mejer in Berlin. Mojsze had been born in 1893 in Kalisch, Poland (today Kalisz, Poland) and Pesia in 1902 in Ostrow, Poland (Ostrów). Mojsze owned a business in Berlin for men's and boys' clothing, M. Berkowitz. The couple had three children: Esther (born April 4, 1922), Leib (born July 10, 1923), and Natan (born December 27, 1928). Leib did not survive childhood and passed away on April 9, 1928.
The M. Berkowitz clothing store had become profitable enough that by the time of the family's emigration in the late 1930s it had expanded to three buildings, and had been in existence for at least twenty years. Mojsze supported members of both his wife's family and his own siblings in Poland, in addition to maintaining a well-furnished home with household help and private education and summer camps for the children.
The family store was damaged during the attacks on Jewish property on November 8-9, 1938 (Kristallnacht). With the aid of Pesia Berkowicz's two brothers living in New York, they were able to acquire American visas for Esther and Natan after the United States passed a law allowing the entry of additional refugee children. Having been born in Berlin, the children fell under the shorter German quota for visas even though Mojsze and Pesia belonged to the Polish quota. The children departed Hamburg on board the S.S. Hansa, but due to the outbreak of World War II the ship was sent back to Hamburg before having docked at its first stop in Southampton, England. Another passenger on the ship, Jürgen Wittenstein (later George Wittenstein, a future member of the White Rose) assisted in returning Esther and Nathan to their parents in Berlin.
Several weeks later, the Berkowicz family received visas for Belgium, with plans for the children to travel onwards to the United States and Pesia and Mojsze to await their visas for England. At the border with Belgium Mojsze was removed from the train and sent to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp in Oranienburg, Berlin. Pesia and the children continued to Brussels, where the children sailed to New York City on the S.S. Pennland on September 25, 1939. They lived with their uncle in the Bronx.
Pesia remained in Brussels, trying to free her husband from Sachsenhausen. She eventually died on a transport to Auschwitz in 1942. Mojsze died in Sachsenhausen in 1942.
In New York Esther met a fellow emigrant from Poland, Saul Milich, who also used the surname Miller for business. They married on June 26, 1942, a few months before he joined the army. He was active in the army from August 22, 1942 until his honorable discharge October 23, 1945. Esther's brother – now called Nathan – lived with the couple while Saul worked at various military bases in the United States. After the war the family moved to Crown Heights, Brooklyn, where Saul and Nathan established a fur business, called Miller & Berkowitz. Esther and Saul had two children, Janice and Marvin, and in 1952 Nathan moved into his own residence, eventually marrying and having his own family. In 1955 Esther and Saul moved to Forest Hills, Queens and in 1973 to Howard Beach, Queens, where Nathan had helped found the Rockwood Park Jewish Center. Saul retired his fur business in the late 1980s and in 2006 moved to assisted living near their son Marvin.
Saul Milich passed away in 2009, his wife Esther in March 2017. His brother-in-law Nathan passed in March 2016.
1 Linear Feet
The Esther Milich Family Collection holds documents about the immigration of Esther Milich and her brother Nathan Berkowicz in 1939 and about other members of the Berkowicz and Milich families, including the fate of Berkowicz family members left behind in Europe. The collection also contains documentation on the restitution claims filed by Esther and her brother. This collection includes official, legal, and personal family correspondence; official and legal documents; personal family papers; and a few photographs and newspaper clippings.
The collection is arranged in three series:
A suitcase containing a travel toilet kit and a laundry bag has been removed to the LBI Arts and Objects Collection.
Wallets in which some documents were kept were removed from the collection during processing.
During processing of the archival collection, it was divided into series based on folders' contents. Folders were assigned titles and larger folders were divided into multiple folders where necessary. Some correspondence was arranged chronologically.
- Guide to the Papers of the Esther Milich Family 1919-2017 AR 25741
- Processed by Dianne Ritchey
- © 2018
- Language of description
- Script of description
- Language of description note
- Description is in English.
- Edition statement
- This version was derived from EstherMilichFamily.xml
- October 11, 2018 : Links to digital objects added in Container List.