Miriam Frank

This biography is based on Miriam’s autobiography, My Innocent Absence: Exile on Five Continents, her book entitled An Unfinished Portrait: A Journey Around My Mother, and a questionnaire Miriam completed in May 2021 for the Early Medical Women of New Zealand Project. Photographs were sourced from Miriam, and the biography was compiled by Michaela Selway.



Family History & Early Years Moving around Europe

Miriam Frank was born in a small village near Barcelona, Spain, in March 1936, only four months before the Spanish Civil War broke out (EMWoNZ 2021). She was the first of two daughters born to Lou Frank and Käte Lichtenstein. For the first two years of her life, Miriam and Käte lived in a large country house in La Floresta supported by Lou. At this time, he lived in Barcelona and would visit them most weekends (Frank 2010: 11).


Lou was born under the name Ruven-Leiba Frock in a small rural Jewish community in Lithuania in 1896 while the country was under Tsarist rule (Frank 2010: 37). He was the youngest of eight children and his father died of typhoid when he was very young. Due to the conditions of the country, his older brothers started immigrating to America in search of a better life. Eventually, all his male siblings left, leaving him as the oldest male in the household. As per Jewish custom, this meant that he became the head of the house even though he was still a child. By the age of nine, he made the decision to follow his brothers to America and so in 1905, Ruven-Leiba, his mother, and his sister started their journey. “They travelled by train from Kaunas in Lithuania to north Germany, where they boarded a ship and travelled third class, crowded together with many other emigrating families. Food was scarce, and one day he ventured up the forbidden steps to the first class area to steal an apple for his mother. In his rush to run back and give it to her, he fell and injured himself” (Frank 2010: 38).

When he landed in New York, “Frock” was noted down as “Frank” by the immigration officers, and Ruven-Leiba Anglicized his name to Louis and quickly learnt English (Frank 2010: 39). As an adult in America, he chose to break away from his religion due to the double standards he witnessed between the Jewish elders during the week in comparison to the Synagogue meetings. At the end of his high school years, he won a scholarship to attend Cornell University, but his studies were interrupted due to the outbreak of World War One. He was conscripted to the war effort, serving in the counterintelligence sector, surveying the various movements and activities happening at the Spanish border (Frank 2010: 40). Before returning to America, Lou studied at Sorbonne University in Paris. By the time he made it back to America he was broke and so took a job in the leather trade. Eventually, he moved back to Spain and established his own business, which he built over the course of twelve years (EMWoNZ 2021). It was during this time, when he was based in Barcelona, that he met Käte.


Käte was born in Germany in 1907, the fourth child of Oscar and Clara Lichtenstein. “They led a German way of life within their Jewish circle of friends and business associates. They were part of that group of assimilated, German-speaking Jews that was growing in the liberal climate of the German states, although a social divide still existed between Jews and gentiles. At school, my mother and her Jewish classmates didn’t mix with the oddly dressed, Yiddish-speaking girl, with her different ways, recently arrived with her family from Poland. ‘Ostjuden’, Eastern Jews. The family didn’t attend synagogue or observe Jewish customs” (Frank 2010: 33).

Following her schooling years, Käte trained as a paediatric nurse. She found it quite strict and demanding, but it was a profession she loved. Here, she met Seppel (later to be known as Seppel von Ranke). The two friends travelled together for a long time. “She spent time in Berlin where she was drawn into an exciting liberal world of theatre, cabaret, freethinking and free love, a desire for social justice and a defiant stand against the rising fascist movement. In the climate of intolerance and ultra-nationalism, she joined the German Communist Party. She followed Seppel to London and, as Hitler gained power in Germany, the two of them went to Barcelona” (EMWoNZ 2021; Frank 2010: 36-7).

Lou and Käte met in Barcelona and “they were drawn to each other” (Frank 2010: 10). They started a relationship and soon decided they wanted to have a child together. Lou had previously had three children with an earlier partner, all of whom had passed away in infancy. Lou travelled a lot for work and the couple seemed to have an understanding about this. When Käte did fall pregnant, she decided to move to a “peaceful mountain village”, in the island of Mallorca, named Deyá, with Seppel. It was “poised above the sea with a warm, gracious local community and a small handful of foreign artists and writers” (Frank 2010: 11). Unfortunately, their relationship worsened after Käte fell pregnant, as she wanted to marry so as to not worry her parents, but he did not.


Due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Käte and Miriam’s time in Barcelona only lasted for two years. Lou drove them to Collioure on the French side of the Pyrenees in 1938 to escape the slowly closing in troops. Lou made an effort to visit as much as possible and would take Miriam on long walks (Frank 2010: 13). In 1939, they moved to Foëcy and stayed with an older couple who Miriam called Yaya and Yayo (which is Catalan for grandma and grandpa). Yaya and Yayo had two older girls named Claude and Michèle, who embraced Miriam as a younger sister (Frank 2010: 17-8).[1]

Miriam found it difficult in later years to find all the places they moved to throughout this time. Even when Miriam was an adult, Käte did not speak about these years, so Miriam had to reconstruct them through reconnecting with as many people as she could find that they had met or who had housed them (Frank 2017: 7). She does remember temporarily living in a children’s shelter run by her father in Biarritz during the war years while her mother lived elsewhere since the German’s had taken this city (Frank 2010: 24-5). Her father was considered an American citizen and so was free to move about easily, yet her mother was classed as a German Jew and so had much less freedom.

Early in 1941, Miriam and Käte were living in Marseilles. Miriam remembers that they spent the majority of the time in their small room, in a rundown hotel for displaced people, and her mother was always cautious when someone knocked on the door in case it was the police. Miriam remembers one time that her father unexpectedly visited them, and another when the police did come and they took Käte away so Miriam had to stay with a neighbour, but a technical error luckily allowed her return (Frank 2010: 5-7). While in Marseilles, the two became close with a man named Max who had a car and would sometimes take them out for a day trip to the mountains. They stayed in Marseilles for a year while Käte waited for their travel documents for stateless persons to come through. Eventually they came and they boarded a boat full of refugees that would take them to Mexico via North Africa (Frank 2010: 29). They slept on straw mattresses on the floor along with many other refugee families. They first landed in Oran, then Casablanca, and finally Mexico (Frank 2010: 4, 30). It was late in 1941 and the next year, Miriam was due to begin school.

Miriam remembers these years fondly. Her relationship with her mother was very different to any other time in their life, which Miriam attributes to the fact that the only stable thing in their lives was each other. “My mother and I, instead, spent all our time in each other’s company. I now see how important I must have been to her too, in her increasing isolation. I can still hear her tender voice, as she delved into her fond memories of happier times and summoned up lively Spanish folk and children’s songs to share with me” (Frank 2010: 16).


Early Education in Mexico

When they arrived in Mexico, they found a place to live in Mexico City. Miriam started attending the Spanish Republican Colegio Madrid and picked up classical ballet and flamenco dance lessons, which she thoroughly enjoyed (Frank 2010: 60). Entering school meant that Miriam had to relearn Spanish. She had not spoken it since she was very young, as the majority of her childhood to this point had been spent in France (Frank 2010: 45). Miriam enjoyed her time at this school; her teachers were lovely and her classes were interesting, especially history. One notable moment at this school was when she was confronted with the idea of religion. The other girls all questioned her about whether she was Catholic or Protestant. She replied with “I don’t know. Nothing.” When she went home, she asked her mother (Frank 2010: 58):

“We are something too.”
“Ah, yes? Does it have a name?”
“Yes. We are Jews.”

Miriam never felt like she truly fit in with her classmates, which was primarily due to her complicated background. “‘You’re Spanish! Like the Conquistadors who took over our patria and oppressed our people!’ the mestizo girls, who were descended from the Spanish colonialists and practised the Conquistadors’ religion, accused me: the offspring of a German Jewish mother who chanced to be in Spain when I emerged into this world. And, though I got on well with them, they never quite forgave me for being ‘Spanish’, and therefore their enemy.” (Frank 2010: 84)

For their first two years in Mexico City, Käte found work as a nurse and so Miriam spent much time by herself. This was the beginning of some distance forming in their previously very close relationship. After two years, in 1944 with the closing of the war, Lou came to live with Käte and Miriam. He had been interned in Germany during the war years and it was the first time they had all lived together. At first, Miriam was thrilled, however after a month or two he found a new home for Käte and Miriam in Acapantzingo on the outskirts of Cuernavaca (Frank 2010: 63, 65). They were now living too far from Miriam’s school, so Käte had to homeschool her. This led to some tension in their relationship. “I was fighting for my passionately felt right to my own judgement, which I believed deserved respect. The first serious cracks, in what had been such a close relationship between mother and daughter – even though we had seen little of each other in the city, she with her long hours at work and I at school – were appearing” (Frank 2010: 64). Käte also told Miriam during this time that she was pregnant with Miriam’s sister.

After homeschooling for a short time, Miriam was sent to a school in Cuernavaca. Compared to her school in Mexico City, this school was “lax and undemanding” and everyone was “disarmingly friendly” (Frank 2010: 69). She kept herself intellectually stimulated through further reading outside of school. Her father would visit some weekends, but they too were growing more distant and she became less excited to see him (Frank 2010: 70).

Miriam remembers her time in Acapantzingo vividly, not only the people but the poverty. “Birth and death were everywhere in evidence here. In the street, in front of our house, girls barely into their teens walked past with their bulging, pregnant stomachs on their way to their chores and small boys ran about in short shirts without buttons exposing their taut balloon bellies above their skinny legs … Every now and then, a procession passed our gate on the way to the cemetery on the edge of Acapantzingo. At the head: a tiny coffin held high, followed by the family and a long line of local villagers … I once caught a glimpse of two little hands folded, pale and still, with a bunch of flowers peeping over the open coffin” (Frank 2010: 66-7). However, she also remembers being happy. People were friendly and the village had a very communal and familial feel to it.

One day, her mother was reading the paper and saw her brother’s name. This led her to believe that he had died in a concentration camp. Though it turned out to be a mistake (he was hiding in the home of a Dutch family), not long after, she found out that her father had been captured and had died (Frank 2010: 83). This led Käte to decide they needed to make a change. Her sister, Lotte, had emigrated to New Zealand and “encouraged her with letters full of glowing praise for her adopted country and its education and health systems” (Frank 2010: 83). Her father offered for Miriam to live with him and stay in Mexico, but she essentially decided that her mother needed her and so decided to move abroad with her.

In preparation for the move, Käte sent Miriam to an international school so that she could learn English – her third language. This international school was located in Mexico City so Miriam lived with her father for these months (Frank 2010: 84). Soon, Käte and Miriam were bound for New Zealand via San Francisco. They landed in Auckland on the ship Marine Pheonix, and then made their way down to Christchurch, where they arrived in 1948 (Frank 2010: 92-3).


Early Life in New Zealand & Schooling Years

Lotte lived in Christchurch, and Käte and Miriam moved in with her family when they arrived. Miriam very quickly noticed the cultural differences between New Zealand and the many places they had lived on the other side of the world. The world was much more middle-of-the-road and staid, both literally and figuratively, People were friendly but quite undemonstrative, and Miriam felt that it took a long time for her to learn New Zealand’s colloquial language and British-influenced etiquette. “The New Zealand [we] found in the middle of the twentieth century was genteel and conservative in its traditions, left over from the British pioneers who had not so long peopled these islands from Victorian England. There were no free expressions of sensuality, or nude dancing scenes on the beach: here women wore pastel shaded twin sets and calf length skirts, and nobody ever, but ever touched in public… But neither had New Zealand gone through the political upheaval, decimation and carnage that had recently convulsed Europe, and everyone we came across was the personification of kindness, generosity and hospitality, in contrast to the injustice and stark cruelty we had left behind” (Frank 2017: 67). Miriam felt quite out of place. This was emphasised when the Ballet Rambert came to New Zealand, and she went to one of their performances:

I wanted to ask them to take me away with them, to train me to dance like that, that I might escape this cold country where feelings were kept under lock and key and out of sight and life seemed reduced to a system of rules and behaviour.” (Frank 2010: 106-7)

Miriam attended Elmwood Primary School, which was located only a few streets away from where she was staying in Rugby Street. At first, she was placed in the fourth grade because the school did not recognise the Mexican schooling system. However, after some time, which she claims much of which was spent on changing her handwriting, the school moved her up to sixth grade (Frank 2010: 97). Despite being moved up, she felt that she learnt very little at this school. “Serious study seemed to start at secondary school here.” (Frank 2010: 98)

For her High School years, Miriam was enrolled in Christchurch Girls’ High School. “The entrance exam placed me in the top academic stream, which included Latin, French, maths, science, history and geography, preparing us for the national examinations of School Certificate and University Entrance” (Frank 2010: 102). Academically, Miriam felt that the subjects pushed women towards home science, for example knitting (Frank 2010: 103). She was very good at Math and “shone at languages, French and Latin … I also liked the science subjects, but came bottom in geography, as I couldn’t get my head around the New Zealand “back blocks” and such concepts the teacher kept talking about.” (EMWoNZ 2021; Frank 2010: 105). Unfortunately, Miriam found High School just as sterile as primary school – the rules were strict and she was once told off for wiping the dust off her dress when she stood up at the beginning of assembly (Frank 2010: 103). This contributed to her continued feeling of being out of place: “I was going through high school, trying to fit in and adapt to a new language, unfamiliar customs and different outlooks from my friendly but remote peers. I enjoyed their company and sharing our school activities with them, but – deep down inside me – some connection was missing and I felt very alone in their midst” (Frank 2017: 69).

During her High School years, Miriam and Käte moved to their own place. The man they were renting from taught Miriam piano and she remembers him being very patient with her (Frank 2010: 103). She also played netball for school and enjoyed athletics and swimming. She trained in lifesaving and won a bronze medal for swimming. In her free time, she took ballroom dancing lessons and occasionally attended ‘church social’, which involved a lot of dancing, standing around, and orangeade (Frank 2010: 106, 08). At the weekends, she would go hiking in the Port Hills with a girl she met at a church social. These became the highlight of her time in Christchurch (Frank 2017: 71).

Because Miriam’s home life was still very strained, she began reading books about adolescence and psychiatry “to try and understand what was happening to me, and I became absorbed in the subject. I thought I should like to devote my life to helping people solve their problems and find happiness – that which seemed to be eluding me so. But to understand psychiatry in depth, I would have to study medicine. That was when I decided to be a doctor. Turning my attention to healing rather than the hurting.” (Frank 2010: 107) She was fourteen at this time. Between this reading and her learning about the Holocaust, Miriam decided that she wanted to devote herself to “help healing and wellbeing in people, instead of the contrary which had affected me and my life, so adversely” (EMWoNZ 2021).

In her spare time and holidays, Miriam started working in the medical field. During the term, she would look after an elderly lady who had suffered a stroke. In the holidays, she obtained a position as a nurse aide at a small cottage maternity hospital and Hamner Springs Hospital. Part of her reasoning for taking these positions was to spend some time away from home, which was still very tense. Miriam remembers one summer when her mother admitted herself to the Hamner Springs Hospital and Miriam tried to look after her, but her Käte remained as closed off as ever (Frank 2010: 108).

Academically, Miriam started preparing for Medical School. In her third year of High School, she dropped her language subjects, even though she had been excelling at them (she had even won first prize at every intercollegiate competition), in preference for the required Maths, Science, and Latin subjects (Frank 2010: 107). Miriam knew that only the top 120 students from the whole of New Zealand were accepted every year. “Although this intimidated many, I would not be put off. And I would turn over in my mind the likely impact of my decision on my life before me. I felt, for the first time, in control of my destiny” (Frank 2010: 110). By the end of her third to last year at school, Miriam had passed her School Certificate examinations. “Though it was usual to spend two more years at school to prepare for University, I decided, against my teacher’s advice, that one more year of Christchurch Girls’ High School – the minimum to qualify for University – was enough. I was impatient to move on to freer surroundings” (Frank 2010: 110).


The Teaching Aspects of Medical Intermediate & Medical School

Miriam’s original plan was to conduct her Medical Intermediate in Christchurch so she could remain at home. However, at the last-minute Miriam made the decision to travel to Dunedin. It was 1953 and she was 16 when she first went down for Medical Intermediate, which “consisted of the basic sciences underlying medicine” (Frank 2010: 110). The subjects she studied were BSc Stage 1 Physics, Physical Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Zoology, and Botany. This course could be sat at any of the four universities in New Zealand: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, or Dunedin. Her favourite subjects were Physics and Zoology (Frank 2010: 117). Entrance into Medical school was given to the top 120 student from across these four universities (EMWoNZ 2021). At the end of her time in Medical Intermediate, Miriam was thankful that she completed it in Dunedin, as it meant she made friends with other medical students before entering the intensive program.

Miriam loved Dunedin: “I really enjoyed feeling in control of my life for the first time, and I found Dunedin a lively university town with its life revolving around the students who came there from every corner of NZ to attend courses available only in Dunedin at the time … I found it a beautiful place with its sea views, lush gardens, and its mountainous backdrop. I also liked the university campus, with the Leith river flowing through it, and the student life which we were introduced to with the Fresher’s Hop – a dance for first year students” (EMWoNZ 2021).

Miriam took two years for her Medical Intermediate though the course was only one year. Indeed, many students took two years (some even up to seven) to complete the course due to lack of adequate teaching of science at most high schools. Miriam did not mind taking the two years. “It was normal to do a second year in the 6th Form, in High School, to be better prepared for university. In my impatience to leave high school and enter a more adult and self-reliant atmosphere, I remember telling myself I would rather do one year in the 6th Form and two at Medical Intermediate, than the other way around.” Miriam performed well in her first year of Medical Intermediate. She achieved very high marks in physics, “which most people failed the first time round, but the organic chemistry course was taught very badly, by rote, rather than making any sense of it, and I disliked it and didn’t prepare properly for it and got low marks for it.” In her second year of Medical Intermediate, Miriam enrolled in the Bachelor of Science Stage One Organic Chemistry course rather than resitting the Medical Intermediate version. This course was taught by an “excellent lecturer, and I absolutely love it – he made wonderful sense of it, I remember thinking it was like algebra, which I loved, and I ended up getting very high marks in the final exam, and got into medical school without a problem that time.”

Miriam pictured next to Professor Bill Adams (Professor of Anatomy) at a welcome event held for the women medical students in their first year at Medical School.

Miriam entered Medical School in 1955, along with 12 other women (including Viola Palmer nee Heine, Rosalie Sneyd nee McPherson, and Dame Norma Restieaux). For the first 5 terms (1 and 2/3 years) the medical students attended lectures on Biochemistry (taught by Professor Edson), Physiology (taught by Professor McIntyre), Embryology (taught by Professor Adams), Histology, and Physiology practical sessions. The subjects she enjoyed the most were Physiology, Biochemistry and Anatomy because they taught her how the body works and what it is made up of (EMWoNZ 2021). However, her overall favourite subject was Neurophysiology. “I found neurophysiology the most captivating and closest to the greatest mystery of all: the link between our physical bodies, which can be measured, and the ‘mind’, which can’t” (Frank 2010: 124). These classes ran from 9am until 12 or 1pm every day. This was followed by an anatomy lab, which usually involved dissecting a body, that run from 2pm to 5pm every day (EMWoNZ 2021). In the dissection classes, four students were assigned to each body so that there were two on either side, and they worked from the Gowland and Cairney book (Frank 2010: 115). Miriam performed well in Anatomy. She remembers one of her exam papers came back with “Very competently answered and satisfyingly devoid of errors and ambiguities. Very good indeed!” “Considering his exceptionally high demands, his praise delighted me. On many other students’ papers he had written ‘ROT’ across the pages!”(Frank 2010: 133).

In the dissection room in her third year classes at the Medical School.

Miriam remembers that the women generally sat in the front row of the lecture theatres. She believed this was not a requirement, but more because the women tended to keep together. “I think from the way society worked at the time and the way they had been brought up and were led to expect, and what they were used to. I had grown up rather differently and tended to be more adventurous and break ranks rather more easily. I do remember the Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology always starting his lectures with “Well, chaps”, looking across and above the first row where we the women were sitting and addressing himself straight at all the men sitting behind us.  It was a way of saying, “what are all you women doing here? I shall opt to ignore you” Yet, his specialty was focussed on women. Maybe he thought women were alright as his patients, in which role they were in a sense subservient to him, but not as his intellectual equal, or colleagues” (EMWoNZ 2021; Frank 2010: 140).

At the end of their third year, the students sat their “First Professional Exam”. This exam tested their knowledge of almost everything in the human body in preparation for their clinical studies the following year. They spent the six weeks leading up to exams with a very detailed plan that would revise everything they had learnt. Miriam stuck this plan up on her wall and spent the following weeks in front of her books. She would go to bed very early and wake up very early – before the rest of Dunedin it seemed – so that she could study without interruption (Frank 2010: 134-5).

Third Year Class Photo, 1956. Miriam is standing on the left windowsill with Bruce Hamilton and Toby Whitlock. The rest of the women are sitting in the front row.

Having passed this exam, the students progressed to the clinical subjects of Medicine, Surgery, Pharmacology, Microbiology, Pathology (where they watched Postmortems), Obstetrics, and Gynaecology. She remembers the clinical experience well, especially her first postmortem – she remembers seeing the morgue technician doing the examination of the body, walking away, and feeling very grateful to be alive (Frank 2010: 136-7). She also did not enjoy killing the frogs after their experiments on them and would ask her Physiology partner (Colin Shanks) to do it for her. Following these classes, the students “crossed the road in our short white coats and our stethoscopes dangling prominently from our necks(!), to take part in ward rounds, learn to take histories and examine patients, and watch operations” (EMWoNZ 2021). It was drilled into them to observe everything about the patient from the moment they saw them, and they were taught to keep life-threatening diagnoses from patients, which she thought was wrong. She remembers one moment in hospital where her patients’ “prognosis was bad, yet I had to conceal it from him: patients were kept ignorant of a life-threatening diagnosis then, in the 1950s. This troubled me. Were there not circumstances in which they had a right to know? And then, how would one break the news? And I would weigh up the distress from disclosure against the deception” (Frank 2010: 137). Alongside this, they were taught some nursing skills, such as bed-making, intramuscular injections, and catheterising.

Miriam pictured with her first two deliveries in the Obstetric Hospital in Dunedin as a fourth year medical student.

In the fourth year, the requirement of delivering 20 babies was added. Miriam remembers thinking the Plunket system was beneficial where it had reduced infant mortality, but bad that it ignored bonding. She also recalls her first delivery (which was an unplanned pregnancy); she was more excited and in wonder than the mother was! Her second delivery was also momentous; the lady named the baby girl after her – it was her fifth child and she had run out of ideas for names (Frank 2010: 140-1). In fifth year, they studied Public Health and Medical Jurisprudence. Their sixth year was spent in a hospital in any of the four New Zealand main cities: Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin (EMWoNZ 2021).

At the end of her fifth year, the students had to sit more exams. Unfortunately, Miriam failed her fifth-year exams in Medical Jurisprudence and considered dropping out. She had found the subject difficult due to all the murders and rapes they had to learn to recognise (EMWoNZ 2021). She went to see the new Dean who asked about her upbringing. He asked about her parents, and how she had to leave the country because of the war. He recognised that coming to New Zealand and all of the moving must have been very difficult for her. But he encouraged her to keep up with the studies and he allowed her to sit a “special” without losing any time (Frank 2010: 141-2).

While the teaching at Otago Medical School was thorough, Miriam felt that they were not taught the more personal aspects of dealing with patients, such as how to relate to them and the very difficult life situations they would encounter. “We had to work that out on our own” (EMWoNZ 2021).


Life in Dunedin

For the first year and a half in Dunedin, Miriam lived at St Margaret’s College (EMWoNZ 2021). Her first room was at the back of the hostel due to her late application to Dunedin over Christchurch, where she had originally intended to study. “It barely fitted a narrow bed under the window and a small desk against the inner wall. But that was all I needed. And I was happy” (Frank 2010: 116). In her second year, she moved into a slightly bigger room that she shared with another woman. There was a large dining hall where they all ate together. Meals usually consisted of lamb, mashed potatoes, and overcooked cabbage – “the usual NZ food of that time” (EMWoNZ 2021). The girls staying at St Margaret’s were required to be back by 10pm every night, and they were allowed one late night a week (until 11pm) for which they had to write their name and the event in the book and subsequently sign back in on return. “Women who broke these rules were expelled. Men were not allowed in the building, if they accompanied us home, they had to drop us at the front door” (EMWoNZ 2021).

After some time, Miriam moved from St Margaret’s to a bedsit just down the street. “I felt cosy and secure. Womb-like. Myself. In this room, there was no need to modify thoughts or behaviour according to outside pressures from people with different habits, expectations, priorities. I felt content and self-sufficient” (Frank 2010: 122-3). Miriam enjoyed this bedsit, mostly because it gave her independence, the freedom to set her own schedule, and quiet to study when and how she wanted (EMWoNZ 2021).

Miriam’s bedsit in Leith Street, Dunedin. Miriam is not pictured in this photo. Instead, on the far right is Eileen Tutchen. The other two women were non-medical friends of Miriam.

Following her years in the bedsit, Miriam moved into a flat on Queen Street with fellow students Rachel Maule (nee Senn) and Pat Wood (nee Houghton). The three of them took turns cooking for a week each. They would go shopping for their meals and they each had their own particular dishes that they liked to prepare which meant there was always variety (EMWoNZ 2021). Their flat was located on top of a two-storey house, and it had a porch that looked over the whole of Dunedin, including the harbour and peninsular (Frank 2010: 136). It was only a few minutes’ walk from the medical school. Her time in this flat was more social than when she was in the bedsit. Though that time was needed, she enjoyed the parties they held in the flat, listening to the radio together, and the discussions and debates she had with her flatmates (Frank 2010: 138).

Studying in the flat Miriam shared with Rachel Senn and Pat Houghton in fourth year.

During the 1950s, the pubs in Dunedin closed at 6pm sharp, which did not allow for much social time after their intensive day of classes. Moreover, “women absolutely didn’t go to pubs, they were only for men. No – we would meet at each other’s flats, have parties, there were dances, might occasionally go to a film, but not often. Parties at each others’ flats was the most common way of socialising”. Wine was not very big back then; the most common drink was beer, though Miriam did not like drinking. “I might sip from half a glass which I held all night long, just for company”. There was also a lot of smoking among students, though Miriam also did not enjoy smoking. “I didn’t smoke – maybe half a cigarette, that I’d hold for the whole time, again for company, and to stop being offered any more. (EMWoNZ 2021)

As Dunedin was a student town, there were many social events held throughout the year. One was the Freshers’ Hop, “held in a large hall near the university complex, [which] introduced us to the social life of the university. I put on a pretty dress, painted my lips bright red, powdered my face, and set off to dance with another Medical Intermediate student from a small town on the North Island” (Frank 2010: 116). Miriam also remembers attending the capping week dances (Frank 2010: 129).

While Miriam was in Dunedin, she worked at a variety of jobs. Her father did send her £75 a year from Mexico but that was supposed to cover all of her costs for twelve months: living, books, microscope, skeleton, clothing, food, etc. This only came to £1.50 a week! (EMWoNZ 2021) To get some more money to aid her situation, Miriam worked at the Cathedral Square Cinema in Christchurch selling tickets, packing cigarette papers, and making ice cream (EMWoNZ 2021; Frank 2010: 134).

From what Miriam remembers, more men ended up dropping out than women due to the demanding course and exams (EMWoNZ 2021). She did not feel that there was any animosity between the men and women students. “They may have joked at our expense at times, but on the whole, I got on fine and on equal terms, for instance with the male students at dissection, which we worked at together, 4 delegated to each corpse, so it was myself and 3 men – we concentrated on the dissecting and had a cordial relationship. I can’t speak for the other women, but I think they also got on well with the male students in our class.” (EMWoNZ 2021)

Miriam remembers continuing to feel culturally out of place. This was highlighted when she went to see a movie with another student that was about World War Two. This movie portrayed the British and Germans as both very gentlemanly. She tried to explain to her friend that this was not at all how she remembered the Nazi’s acting, having actually been there, but he tried to reason with her that that could not have been the case. She felt that he was trying to humanise them (Frank 2010: 139). Nevertheless, Miriam found a close group of friends at the Kensington Youth Club, where she was a helper. The club helped local youth against juvenile delinquency. She came to depend on this group a lot. She also joined the tramping club (Frank 2010: 120-2). The club would go for weekend hikes in the nearby mountains, and they would sleep overnight in their sleeping bags out in the open. “Hiking out in the wild and beautiful native bush, I became whole and happy here again. I felt thoroughly at peace and at home with my surroundings in this lush Antipodean nature”. One of the trips was over Easter weekend; the members spent a week tramping on Stewart Island: “a thickly forested, sparsely populated island with a rich native vegetation and bird life, on the furthest point of the Antipodes” (Frank 2017: 72).

Miriam with the Otago University Tramping Club on an Easter trip in Stewart Island. The third along from the right is Miriam’s medical classmate Patricia Houghton, and Miriam is on her left.

Throughout her time at university, Miriam only had one relationship, though it was never too serious. They went to dances together, would walk around the parks and neighbourhoods, and go to films and parties together (EMWoNZ 2021; Frank 2010: 128-31). She did not remember any of the medical women students dropping out due to marriage or pregnancy, but she does remember that “many of the male students got their girlfriends, or not necessarily a girlfriend, pregnant, usually nurses, and “had to marry them” as a result” (EMWoNZ 2021).

Between 5th and 6th year, in 1959, Miriam took a trip to Australia with fellow medical classmates Rachel Senn (centre) and Pat Houghton (right). Miriam is on the left.

Sixth Year and House Surgeon Years

The women in the front row, from Left to Right: Rachel Senn, Jean Fyfe, Kathleen Christian, Patricia Houghton, Elaine Tutchen, and Miriam Frank at the far right.

 For her final year, Miriam was placed in Auckland. Her first job was incredibly intense. They alternated nights on call, “one-in-two”, so if either of them called in sick or was on leave, the other was on call 24/7. At one point when she was at Auckland Hospital, Miriam remembers contracting influenza but had to continue working because the other was on leave (Frank 2010: 144).

Following Auckland Hospital, Miriam worked at Avondale Mental Hospital so she could pursue her interest in psychiatry. The hospital was split into male and female wards; Miriam dealt primarily with the female patients, as the male patients could get violent around women (Frank 2010: 145). “I applied myself to my duties at this hospital, determined to do my best for the patients and learn as much as possible” (Frank 2010: 146). Miriam came across many patients who had been locked up for a long time, though the reason for their being sectioned was not at all evident, but still had maximum security. She was not too sure what to make of it – had they really healed with time or were they faking it? “I learned to respect the complexity of these conditions and their treatment and to realise that there were no ready explanations or solutions, contrary to much I had come across in my psychoanalytic reading” (Frank 2010: 147-9).

Throughout this year, Miriam also spent time in the Pediatric, Ear, Nose and Throat, Geriatric (where she spent most of her time certifying deaths) and Cardiac wards across the Auckland Hospital Group. “It was all a very hands-on experience of life and death. And of helping and healing” (Frank 2010: 152).

Miriam on graduation day, 1960.

Miriam found this year a natural transition from her previous two years, “only more intense” (EMWoNZ 2021). Both the men and women were paid equally as trainees, and the hospitals thankfully paid for their accommodation. This accommodation included food, and she found they had little time for anything outside of work.

At the end of the year, Miriam returned to Dunedin for graduation. She does not remember attending a graduation ball. Instead, to celebrate, Miriam and fellow student Judy Barfoot (nee Radcliffe) went tramping around Queenstown (Frank 2010: 152-3).

The 1960 graduating class. Miriam is the third woman from the left in the front row, next to Liz Burns.

Miriam returned to Auckland for her House Surgeon years and spent her time between three hospitals in the Auckland Hospital Group – Middlemore, Greenlane, and Auckland Hospital. From what she understood, graduates were automatically given work in the hospital where they had down their final year, as it was still considered part of their training. Her first run was at Middlemore Orthopaedic Hospital in the casualty department alongside Elaine O’Brien (nee Tutchen), with whom she had studied. “It was demanding, steeling time” (Frank 2010: 153-4). The work was difficult both day and night; it felt as if the graduates “were thrown in the deep end!” (EMWoNZ 2021) Miriam earned approximately £15 for a 100-hour week, including on call time. The pay was equal for both men and women.

Miriam working in the Casualty Department at Middlemore Hospital.

The work at Greenlane was just as demanding. She remembers many nights when they were still admitting patients who had arrived that morning but had been forced to wait because other emergencies kept popping up (Frank 2010: 154-5).

Miriam completed her two years of registration and then decided it was time for her to leave New Zealand. Many graduates either took time after their registration years to travel or undertake postgraduate training. Before she left, she did some locums around the Wellington area (where she stayed with her cousin Peter) and a country practice in Wellsford (which looked after a 30-mile radius). Because it was a country practice it was very varied work and so she enjoyed it. “The work was satisfyingly varied and challenging and I enjoyed the close relationship with the community” (Frank 2010: 157).

I was finally ready to leave New Zealand. I had been afforded refuge, given a nationality and trained in a profession in this country with its tradition of hospitality and a just social order. Yet I was riddled with uncertainties and incongruities. I needed to find out who I was” (Frank 2010: 158).

Miriam (on the right) is pictured with fellow medical students Rachel Senn (far left) and Patricia Houghton (second from the left) on Elaine Tutchen’s wedding day. Elaine married a fellow medical student. Tragically, she passed away three weeks after the wedding in a car accident.

The Travel Years: London, Israel

Miriam left New Zealand on the Fairsea, which stopped in Australia, Singapore, Colombo, and Aden before she disembarked at Suez. Miriam then caught a bus from Suez to Cairo and Ismalia, where she once again boarded the boat which had slowly made its way through the Suez Canal (Frank 2010: 164-9). Miriam arrived in Rome in 1962, where she met her cousin. Käte and Miriam’s younger sister soon joined her in Europe and they spent some time retracing some of the places they had escaped to in Miriam’s childhood (Frank 2010: 172-3).

By the end of 1962, Miriam had finally made her way to London, where she intended to continue her medical training in some capacity. She did a few locums in a number of hospitals in London, and she reconnected with some of her Medical School friends (Frank 2010: 175, 77). One notable meeting was with Dr Erich Geiringer (soon to be son-in-law of Dr Claudia Shand and husband to Dr Carol Shand). Erich was a well-known Austrian-Jewish political activist who had escaped Nazi Germany and trained in medicine in Scotland. His career carried him to New Zealand where he had been employed as a researcher at the University of Otago Medical School from 1959. Miriam was deciding what her next step should be in her career and was tossing up the idea of moving to Israel to reconnect with her Jewish heritage. She had many lively conversations with Erich about this decision as well as medical politics in New Zealand (Frank 2010: 175-6).

In the end, Miriam did decide to move to Israel. On the way from London, she stopped in Mexico City to visit her father, and then carried on to Jerusalem, where she obtained a year-long position as an anaesthetist at Hadassah Medical School Hospital in Ein Karem (Frank 2010: 178, 93; EMWoNZ 2021). Upon first arrival in Jerusalem, Miriam stayed with her uncle Fritz Lichtenstein, who had changed his name to Perez Leshem upon settling in Israel, and his wife Hava (Frank 2010: 194).

Miriam when she was working at Hadassah University Hospital in Jerusalem.

I was given an opening in anaesthesia which, apart from being a speciality that interested me, solved the problem of communication with my patients, as I knew no Hebrew. In the course of my work I spoke English, the language of their textbooks, with my medical colleagues; my basic German – from hearing my mother speak it in the background during my childhood – allowed for a dialogue of essentials with the Yiddish-speaking patients; my Spanish likewise with the Ladino-speaking, Sephardic ones; and French worked with those who came from North Africa. The only patients I could not converse with, were those from the eastern Arab countries who spoke only Hebrew and Arabic. Yet I soon learned the most important phrases of my métier” (Frank 2010: 194-5).

At Hadassah, Miriam generally worked until mid-afternoon, “by which time my operating list was finished and I had seen my next day’s patients” (Frank 2010: 195-6). This meant that when she was not on night duty, she had the freedom to do what she pleased. Hadassah had eight theatres covering General Medicine, Orthopaedics, Urological, Paediatric, Neurosurgical, and Chest (Frank 2010: 201). Miriam anaesthetised patients from all different backgrounds, due to the multi-cultural nature of Jerusalem. Her most memorable patients were people suffering from gunshot wounds from straying too close to the Jordanian border (Frank 2010: 202-3).


Marrying Kortokraks & Working at the London Practice

Though Miriam enjoyed her time in Israel, she decided she needed to return to London to complete some postgraduate training. Her plan was to return to Israel when her training was complete. She had found a sense of ‘home’ in Israel despite the cultural divisions. Here were a people and place who, in general, welcomed her and who shared a common past.

Thus, in 1964, Miriam returned to London. Her plan became side-tracked, however, when she attended a Guy Fawkes celebration hosted by a medical friend from Otago and met an eccentric artist named Rudolf Kortokraks (Kraks). Kraks was a German artist who had trained under, and later taught alongside, Oskar Kokoschka. Coincidentally, as they got to know each other, they realised they had many common acquaintances from around Europe; people who had helped Käte and Miriam in their escape were now friends with and mentors of Kraks (Frank 2017: 80). She was captured by him and his way of seeing the world, and he offered to coach her in her art. The following week he met her at a recital, and they set a date for her first art lesson. She found his knowledge invaluable; his own work was so personal and he captured people as they really were, “powerful and real… they breathed life… One could sense the complexity of the person caught on the canvas, on paper” (Frank 2010: 214). While they both worked, they began to connect on a deep level; he understood her complicated multi-cultural past like no one else had. “When I first met Kortokraks, we felt a deep rapport, a mutual understanding and shared experiences and views of the world. I found him inspirational, and he could be gentle, warm and empathetic. He immediately set to draw me and paint me, while I was learning, through him, more about myself and my own past. We formed a strong, instinctive bond” (Frank 2017: 61).

After a while, Kraks returned to Germany for a commission, and she stored his household items in her apartment. She took this time apart to consider what she wanted for her future. She began searching for postgraduate training opportunities at the same time as considering if she wanted to stick to her plan of returning to Israel. She decided that Kraks was who she wanted to stay with. “The man might be difficult and complicated, but what he stood for was something I could relate to. My values had found an anchor. And I knew I would stay with him” (Frank 2010: 218-9). They got married in Salzburg in 1965. It was a small civil ceremony held in Schloss Mirabell, a bishop’s palace; her mother was unable to get leave from work at such short notice but her sister was in attendance (Frank 2010: 221-2).

Miriam and Kraks on their wedding day in Austria, 1965.

Following the wedding, the couple moved around a lot, going wherever Kraks was commissioned to paint. They lived on very little and often had to stay on the couches in their friends’ houses. Throughout this time, they lived off the money Kraks earned from these commissions and Miriam’s savings. Eventually Miriam’s funds ran out and the couple decided to return to London. Their decision was reinforced by the knowledge that Miriam was pregnant with their first child – Rebekah (Frank 2010: 225).

At first, Miriam did a few locums around London, and then joined an Islington-Highgate medical practice as a full-time junior partner (Frank 2010: 226). After Rebekah was born in 1966, Miriam transitioned to part-time work so that she had time to be home with her new daughter but still earn to support the family. A few months later, the family moved into a home in Muswell Hill. “I saw patients from as far afield as affluent, leafy Highgate in the north, to the crowded City in the south, and from underprivileged Hackney neighbourhoods to more middle-class Camden, east to west. The majority were concentrated in Islington, and I became familiar with the problems and poverty in east London” (Frank 2010: 230, 32).

This time in Miriam’s life was very difficult. Kraks was suffering from frequent emotional episodes and an alcohol addiction, and so was often unable to childmind. Miriam would have to bring Rebekah with her to the surgery and the receptionist would look after her. At one point, Miriam became so ill from over-working that she was confined to bed. She struggled to breathe for a long time, but as soon as she was able to stand she returned to work because she was the only income provider. As she had not taken the time to recover properly, her symptoms persisted and she was eventually diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue (M.E.) (Frank 2010: 232-3).

After three years at the Islington-Highgate practice, Miriam resigned. Her friend Pat, who she knew from Medical School, advised her that hospitals were now offering part-time anaesthesia positions for women doctors. This had not previously been an option for Miriam, but she decided to pursue it, as it finally allowed her to pursue the postgraduate training she had desired to do (Frank 2010: 236).


Specialising in Anaesthesia

With Professor Payne in the Anaesthetic Unit at the London Hospital.

Resigning from her position at the general medical practice meant that Miriam had time off for the first time in a long time. The family decided to travel to Mexico during 1969 to visit Miriam’s father, as they now had the time to do so. Miriam fell pregnant again during their trip, and they returned to London in 1970. Upon return, Miriam started looking for part-time anaesthetic jobs and found one at Royal Northern Hospital. As a part of this trainee anaesthetic position, she was able to sit the exam for the Diploma, which she passed (Frank 2010: 246). Her supervisor, Dr Stewart Burns, then encouraged her to start working towards the Fellowship. He offered her “a day’s leave from work every week, on full pay, so you can attend it”. It was a three-four months’ course. “The idea of having an opportunity of studying in depth the subjects, which not only lay at the heart of anaesthesia but were in their own right of considerable interest to me, was very appealing. Exams apart, I would enjoy listening to the lectures and going back to academic learning. So I said yes, I would like to attend the course” (Frank 2010: 247). Rebekah was also now four years old, which meant she was able to go to playgroup so Miriam had more time for her studies.

Her role at the hospital eventually expanded to include drawing up the rosters and organising the training of the junior doctors starting in anaesthesia. Concurrently, in her course, she was learning in greater depth about physiology, pharmacology, and medical physics. “Our prime responsibility was to maintain life, whether during surgery in the operating theatre, or in the intensive care unit where the failing life-supporting systems are a result of injury, disease or extensive surgery on ill patients” (Frank 2010: 250).

Miriam working as an anaesthetist.

Miriam’s second child, Anna, was born later in 1970, while she was studying towards her Fellowship. She continued to study with her newborn and would often be up at night rocking Anna to sleep while going over her lecture notes (Frank 2010: 251). “On the day of exams, I sat among the other candidates in the long, single rows, not a stray whisper in the large hall, the rustle of turning pages the only intrusion into the silence. I wrote without a break, enjoying the questions and organising them into careful logically structured answers. After the three written exams, the orals began. The last day of orals arrived and I waited with the others to hear the names called out of those who had been successful. As the list reached the surnames beginning with F, I suddenly heard my name. I stood there stunned.” She later told Dr Burns that she was successful, and he congratulated her. “I was delighted he should see his help and encouragement had not been in vain” (Frank 2010: 252).

Though she passed the first section of the Fellowship, Miriam unfortunately did not pass the second section on her first try. She had been suffering from sleep deprivation due to issues at home. Kraks was suffering another emotional episode, (which again led to troubles with alcohol) and so was unable to sleep. Miriam would stay up with him. She felt that she had written many of the answers incorrectly due to exhaustion (Frank 2010: 256). As a result, her mother moved to London to help with the children which gave Miriam more time to work and study.

Miriam receiving her Fellowship for the Royal College of Anaesthetists, in London UK.

Though she had been struggling with her home life, Miriam was succeeding in her professional life, much to her surprise. She was presented with “a prize two years running for having ‘contributed over and above my duties to the department, when I thought I was simply doing my job.” Soon, she sat the Final Fellowship exam again and passed. “There was a question in the medical paper on alcoholism, and I doubt the examiner came across a more informed answer than mine” (Frank 2010: 256-7).

In the summer of 1976, the family moved to Salzburg in Germany, as Kraks had agreed to run the International Summer Academy. It was the first of five summers he would run. While there, their marriage drastically improved; life was good and happy, and they enjoyed the culture and food (Frank 2010: 260). Upon return to London, though, their marriage returned to its strained nature, where he both possessively wanted her to be by his side, but also rejected her as being too “intrusive” (Frank 2010: 261). Thankfully, she was also returning to London Hospital (now named Royal Hospital) for the beginning of her senior registrar training. She was in charge of supervising and administering anaesthetics in every speciality in the eight surgical theatres. “We also prepared and coordinated the daily rotas, looked after the twelve-bed intensive therapy unit (ITU), and assisted with the teaching and training of the junior anaesthetic staff. I was chosen to do a six-month stretch of research, which had just been introduced as part of the rotation“. She worked with Tim Savege and Michel Dubois on the Cerebral Function Monitor, “investigating its use to demonstrate depth of anaesthesia with different agents” (Frank 2010: 263). She also set up an academic reading club to discuss current academic literature and provide time for socialising between junior and senior staff. Around this time, Miriam published her first paper and was encouraged by Tim Savege to present their work at an Anaesthetic Research Society meeting in Bristol (Frank 2010: 264).

Although the work was demanding I found it satisfying, and I found myself for the first time since my marriage almost grateful for its long hours, which kept me from home. The girls were both at school now, and although I would have much preferred to have been there for them when they came home, I didn’t miss the complications with Kraks. Up until that time, home, Kraks and the children had always been foremost in my mind, yet now I found myself separating home and work as though leading two separate lives” (Frank 2010: 264).

Following her time at London Hospital, Miriam took a position as an anaesthetist at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children for her senior registrar rotation – “the last step before qualifying for a consultant post” (Frank 2010: 262). Children from all around the world travelled there for care because it was a hospital that was not limited by lack of funds, so it had all the equipment required for quality treatment. In this placement, she covered the Emergency Department and the Cardiac and Respiratory Intensive Care wards.


An Academic Career in Anaesthesia

Near the end of her rotation at Great Ormond Street Hospital, Tim Savege advised Miriam that Michel Dubois’ job was being advertised; he recommended that she apply for it. Though she had not yet completed her rotation, she applied for and was awarded the position of Senior Lecturer in Anaesthesia at London Hospital Medical College. “What had started years back at the Royal Northern Hospital as friendly encouragement from Dr Burns had ended up in an academic career” (Frank 2010: 265). This role involved both research and teaching (she was employed as a senior lecturer), as well as consulting (EMWoNZ 2021).

For this part of her career, Miriam worked at Royal London and Newham General Hospitals located in London’s East End. “I spent my days in the operating theatre, giving anaesthetics and supervising and teaching doctors in training, engaging in research, and lecturing nurses, medical students and postgraduates” (Frank 2017: 29-30).

Miriam’s research specialised in various areas of Obstetrics: “I was conducting studies which aimed at safer anaesthetic methods and improved pain relief in obstetrics.” At another hospital she was invited to conduct research into “the unusual anaesthetic service to patients submerged in a bath of water for the non-invasive fragmentation of their kidney stones, until a simpler method was developed” (Frank 2010: 299).

She also played a vital role in furthering anaesthetics in regard to epidurals and Caesareans – specifically so that mothers could be awake and husbands could remain in the room for the process, which meant the mother and baby could instantly be with each other following the birth.

I remember my follow-up visit to a young mother who had undergone a difficult breech delivery under an epidural. I asked if she had been comfortable during all the manoeuvring by the obstetricians for her baby’s delivery. ‘Yes, doctor. The epidural worked well and I didn’t feel any pain. But what I’ll remember you most for, and shall never forget, is the way you stayed by my side and held my hand and explained to me everything that was going on.’ More than the pain relief afforded by my expertise, that had allowed her conscious participation in the complicated delivery of her child, I had also cut through the isolating divide between people and accompanied her in her loneliness and fear. I was maybe trying to give her that closeness I had once experienced, and then lost, with my mother. But more than that, it represented the antithesis of human indifference, the final path of which led to the Holocaust and every other act of savagery committed in the world to this day. And for me, that was what it was all about.” (Frank 2010: 300-1)

Miriam presenting her research on monitoring depth of anaesthesia at the World Congress of Anaesthesia conference in Manila, the Philippines.

Miriam attended many conferences and presented many papers around the world (for example, San Francisco, Manila, Paris, Rome, Washington, Rotterdam, and China) on her research. She also organised a conference at London Hospital, which had 250 anaesthetists in attendance (Frank 2010: 301).

Lecturing in China.

Throughout her studies and career, Miriam did not feel that she received any discrimination, but instead “felt recognised and appreciated for what I offered. I was twice presented with prizes for what was described as my dedication above what was expected from my position, and I also received a Merit Award for Clinical Excellence. My being a woman never interfered with my work, and both male and female doctors doing their post-graduate training remarked on finding my teaching helpful” (EMWoNZ 2021).


Life Outside of Medicine

At the art school in Tuscania. Miriam is pictured second on the left and Kraks is in the middle.

In the summer of 1981, Kraks founded a new summer art course, which ran for six weeks in Tuscania, Italy. Miriam took her four weeks’ annual leave to help with the administrative duties. In the first course, there were 20 students enrolled. Over the years, the school continued to double in size until there were well over a hundred each year. People would come from all over the world, and many newspapers wrote lengthy articles about the school to spread awareness of it (Frank 2010: 277, 85). Miriam fell in love with Tuscania and eventually bought a house there.

From the 1980s onwards, Miriam started to make more time for her passions. In 1989, Miriam visited Argentina for a conference. While there she visited some of the remnants of Argentina’s pre-conquest cultural landmarks. She fell in love with it and, after her return to London, was recommended a book: Fuego en Casabindo by Héctor Tizón. The book was about Jujuy in Northwest Argentina. Miriam contacted the author and requested to translate it into English. In 1990, she visited the area, which helped her to better understand the content of the book.

I went back to my translation with increased application. I worked at it every evening after I got home from the hospital, far into the night – unravelling each sentence, digesting it, feeling its life and rhythms, recreating it in English. And as I watched myself reaching out towards the imagery emerging out of the words on the pages, the tenuous concepts lifting out from the misty boundaries of my mind to become clear scenes of Latin American village life, and then again saw myself transforming them back into words and sentences, English this time, I appeared to be stirring some out of reach, half-forgotten corner of my being still smarting like an unhealed wound, and digging out the bits of myself that were torn asunder during my translocation from Acapantzingo to Christchurch. A break in my life that went hand in hand with my break with the Spanish language and adoption of English. In my endeavour now to express in English the colours, music, smell and taste of life in the Andean puna, I was bridging that break between my lives in Acapantzingo and Christchurch and, along with it, between the two languages. I was overcoming my loss of what Mexico had stood for in my life, which was in Spanish, and my difficult readjustment to life in New Zealand, linked to English. English had been my language of a life gone dull and grey, of my sense of alienation, of suppression of my passion. Telling Tizón’s world in English was healing my resentments and resolving those long-buried frustrations. Marrying those two worlds inside me and making them into one whole. I was making friends with the English language, getting to like it, delighting in my manipulation of its words to pass on a wealth of sensations and ideas. To love it. And it shook me up…” (Frank 2010: 310)

In the 1990s, she spent some time travelling around Europe, retracing the steps she and her mother had taken during their flight from the Spanish Civil War and World War Two. She met many people who had known her mother and was able to fill in some of the gaps in her memory. This brought a lot of closure, especially because her mother had never spoken about this time with her (Frank 2010: 323-33).

Miriam retired in 1993 and has spent the years since living between her homes in Duncan Terrace, London, Greece, and Tuscania, Italy (Frank 2017: 34). She has written two autobiographies and translated many books from Latin American and Spanish into English. She is currently writing a third autobiography. Due to these ventures, she belongs to the Society of Authors of Great Britain.

Miriam’s advice for women who desire to pursue a career in medicine is to “Go ahead! With enthusiasm and without fear… Your achievement will be your reward.”

1959/60 graduation class reunion in 2014. This photo was taken in Russell across the Bay from Waitangi. Miriam is on the far right.



EMWoNZ. 2021. “Miriam Frank, Early Medical Women of New Zealand Questionnaire.” In. Early Medical Women of New Zealand Project Archives: University of Auckland.

Frank, Miriam. 2010. My Innocent Absence: Tales from a Nomadic Life (Arcadia Books: London).

———. 2017. An Unfinished Portrait: A Journey Around My Mother (Gibson Square Books: London;  Minerva Productions: Auckland).


[1] Miriam returned to Foëcy as an adult and found Yaya still living there. She returned during her search to understand what happened during her childhood. Tragically Yayo had passed away in a concentration camp a few years after Miriam and Käte had left.

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