Maya Rosenfeld Freed Brown was born in September 1940 during the war in Vitebsk, Russia. In 1939 Maya’s parents, Blanche Goodmen and Maurice Rosenfeld, lived together in the Warsaw Ghetto.
In September of 1939 Germany invaded Russia and bombed the building that Maya’s parents lived in, forcing them to flee through the Black Forest to the Russian border where they waited with other refugees. As Communists, Maya’s parents decided to enter Russia, where Maya was soon born. In 1941 the Nazis invaded Vitebsk, and Maya and her family boarded the last cattle train headed East beginning their long journey for refuge. The train eventually stopped in Uzbekistan near Tashkent—over 3,800 kilometers from Vitebsk—where Maya and her family survived in a one-bedroom apartment with other Uzbekis. Maya’s mother worked as a dressmaker for the wives of the Russian generals. As an outgoing and petite child with long curly hair, Maya was often sent to an orphanage for food and thereby surviving.
After the war, Maya and her parents boarded another freight train and travelled the three-month journey back to Warsaw, Poland. When Maya and her family returned to Warsaw the city was in ruins. After surviving a pogrom in the market where forty Jewish survivors were killed, her parents decided that they were still not safe in Warsaw. Forced into hiding from the anti-Semitism that existed, Maya’s family fled to West Berlin. A Jewish organization (possible from Palestine or the US) smuggled them across the Polish/German borders in army vehicles because the Cold War had started and were placed in a Displaced Persons camp called Tempelhof.
When Israel announced that it would become a nation in 1948 many Jews moved to Israel, but Maya’s parents decided not to go. Instead, her father attempted to contact family members who lived in New York to sponsor him. He had an old jacket that his sister gave to him with a label in it with the contact information of the store where her husband, Heiny Weinburg, had worked. After writing to the store, Maya’s father was put in contact with his family in the United States. A United States quota on Polish immigrants prevented Maya’s family from getting U.S. visas, but Maya’s aunt was able to bribe a Canadian official to grant them visas. In 1949 Maya and her family moved to Canada where they lived in Toronto for five years. While there, Maya learned English and changed her name to May in an attempt to fit in with her peers. Although she was eight years old, she was unable to read or write and enrolled as a first grader, blending in with her classmates due to her petite size.
When she was 11 years old, her classmate approached her at school and asked why she wasn’t at home for Yom Kippur. Confused, Maya asked her father if she was Jewish but her father told her to drop the subject and would not answer her questions. In 1953, Maya’s family received their U.S. visas and moved to Yonkers, New York. Maya now excelled in school and went on to attend Barnard College. After college she got married and had two children and worked as a teacher. Maya attended therapy, which allowed her to come to terms with her challenging childhood, and inspired her to become a therapist.
In 1990 Maya discovered that she was a child survivor of the Holocaust when she read an article in the New York Times about hidden children. Maya now lives in Rochester with her second husband (NAME) where she is close to her children and grandchildren.
Biography written by: Susannah Berry & Anna Philibert