It's easy to miss the shop if you're not looking for it. It blends into the other storefronts, one of many Jewish businesses along that stretch of Bathurst Street. It's been standing there for more than 50 years, just two blocks south of Lawrence Avenue, on the corner of Caribou Road. A plain blue sign lists the wares inside — books, sephorim, gifts — and displays the name of the store itself: Miriam's Judaica.
|Miriam & Bela on their wedding day|
|Children at Auschwitz, 1945|
Pregnant women weren't given the chance to give birth. They, just like young mothers, were usually declared unfit for work and quickly murdered.
"I said goodbye to my friends," she remembered, "who were crying, but it was a relief for me. The suffering would be over, as well as the fear of what would happen to my baby." Rosenthal resigned herself to death.
|Mass grave, Kaufering III, 1945|
Still, one by one, the first six mothers did what seemed to be impossible: they gave birth in a concentration camp. Six new babies were brought into the world. Six new lives in the middle of all that death.
|The seven mothers & their babies, Dachau, 1945|
Rosenthal could barely keep moving, but if she stopped she knew she would killed — and Leslie with her. At one point, as she struggled to carry on, one of the Nazi officers offered to help. More than sixty years later, she was still moved to tears by the memory of that small, unexpected act of humanity. "I couldn't believe it: an SS man says, 'Let me carry your child.' You see, there are good people in this life. They were SS but this man had a heart. He took the child. I could hardly keep walking and he said, 'I'll carry him.'"
"Some Germans helped," she once told the Toronto Star, "maybe not enough, but there were some."
In the end, it took two days for the prisoners and their guards to make the journey from Kaufering to the main camp. Thousands of prisoners died in death marches around Dachau in the final few days of the war. But Rosenthal, the six other mothers, and all seven of their babies survived.
It was over. They were free.
|Bela, Leslie and Miriam|
With the war over, they decided to leave Hungary behind and to set out in search of a new life: they travelled through Bratislava, Prague, Paris and Cuba before they finally reached Canada. For a while, Bela worked at a mattress factory. And then as a rabbi in Timmins and Sudbury. But in the end, they settled in Toronto, where they would spend the rest of their lives.
In 1965, they opened a shop on Bathurst Street at the corner of Caribou Road. They called it Miriam's Fine Judaica. They ran the store for more than 40 years, and raised their growing family: three children, and then grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. They would both into their 90s.
At first, Rosenthal didn't tell her story to very many people outside her own family. She was still haunted by nightmares of SS officers coming to steal her newborn child. But in her later years, she began to share her extraordinary tale. "I believe," she told the Star in 1997, "as I get older I think more and more about the Holocaust and my family... I feel my memories more, but still I am not bitter."
In 2010, she was interviewed for an award-winning German documentary about the seven mothers and their children called Born In A Concentration Camp. A couple of years after that, a journalist from the National Post interviewed her for an article about her remarkable life.
Leslie was there, too. By then, he was nearly 70 years old. As he arrived, Miriam proudly introduced her son: "Here is my miracle baby now."
"And here," Leslie answered, "is my miracle mother."