Lerman, Miles

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LERMAN, MILES (Shmuel Milek ; 1920– ), Holocaust survivor and activist. Lerman was born in Tomaszov Lubelski, son of Israel and Jochevet Lerman. His prosperous family owned flour mills and other businesses throughout eastern Poland. He and his four siblings were raised in an observant home; his father was a supporter of the Belzer Ḥasidim. In his youth, Lerman joined Ha-Shomer ha-Ẓ'air, and following his father's untimely death in 1938 helped run his family's business. Following the German invasion of Poland the Lermans fled to Lvov, where he was arrested and forced to work at the Viniki labor camp in December 1941, from which he later escaped. For 23 months in the forests surrounding Lvov, Lerman was a leader in organized armed resistance against the Nazis.

Following the war, Lerman settled in Lublin and established a leather business with fellow survivor Leon Feldhandler, a leader of the heroic revolt at Sobibor. After Feldhandler's murder, Lerman settled in Lodz and met his future wife, Krysia Rozalia (Chris) Laks. They married in the Schlachtensee displaced persons camp and immigrated to the United States in February 1947. Lerman purchased a poultry farm in Vine-land, New Jersey, and established profitable businesses in the gasoline, heating, and real estate sectors, becoming a prominent member of the Jewish community.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Lerman to the Advisory Board of the President's Commission on the Holocaust and later to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the governing board of the then future United States *Holocaust Memorial Museum (ushmm). Between 1988 and 1990, as chair of the ushmm's International Relations Committee, Lerman negotiated a series of agreements with governments and institutions in Eastern Europe that brought thousands of artifacts and documents to the ushmm and which shaped its permanent exhibition. Lerman met with heads of state, diplomats, ministers, and museum directors to increase the nascent museum's collections and exhibitions. These negotiations occurred at an opportune time as Communist regimes in Eastern Europe were on the verge of collapsing in the late 1980s and were replaced by fledgling democracies. As such, the multi-lingual Lerman was well-positioned to negotiate in an atmosphere where teetering regimes were eager for American goodwill, and sought to include their Holocaust-era patrimony on the National Mall in the heart of the American capital.

Lerman was chosen to lead the museum's capital campaign. The congressional legislation creating the museum required that while the U.S. government would donate the land for the museum, all funds to build the structure needed to be raised from private sources; the initial $147 million budget was later increased to close to $200 million. Lerman determinedly led the effort to raise the necessary funds. He tirelessly traveled across the nation and successfully completed the campaign, along with a dedicated professional staff and volunteers.

Soon after the ushmm's dedication on April 22, 1993, President Bill Clinton appointed Lerman to be the third chair of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, a post he held until 2000. During his tenure, the museum became one of Washington's top tourist destinations, with more than two million visitors annually. Among a number of initiatives, Lerman established the Miles Lerman Center for the Study of Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust, which documents physical resistance in ghettos, forests, and elsewhere throughout German-occupied Europe. A major controversy arose in 1998 when, at the urging of the U.S. Department of State, Lerman invited plo Chairman Yasser Arafat to visit the museum, an offer ultimately declined by Arafat. After his term as chair ended, Lerman assumed the leadership of the museum's endowment fund.

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Lerman took it upon himself to provide a proper memorial for his relatives who were murdered at the Belzec killing center; the Communist-era memorial had fallen into disrepair and the site of the 500,000 murdered Jews was woefully neglected. Lerman worked with a number of Polish governments, and in partnership with the ushhm and later with the American Jewish Committee. Lerman raised the necessary funds to build a dignified memorial. Opening on June 3, 2004, the $5 million Belzec memorial was funded equally by the Polish government and contributions raised by Lerman from American Jews.

[Ralph Grunewald (2nd ed.)]

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Lerman, Miles

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