Michelle Urman was born Musha Golubczyk on September 17, 1925 in the town of Smorgon, outside of Vilna, in Poland. She was the oldest of three daughters to Aaron and Devorah Golubczyk; her sisters Leah and Rachel were, respectively, three and seven years younger than her. Musha was the first girl to be admitted to the local gymnasium under a strict quota of two Jewish students per year, and many survivors from Smorgon who now live in Israel and the United States recall being tutored by her.
The Red Army, then allied with Germany, occupied the town in September 1939, and the Nazis took it over in June 1941, after their invasion of the Soviet Union. Early on, Musha's father was shot in the town square for an alleged infraction, and by September, as Musha turned 16, she was sent to a slave labor camp near Kovno in Lithuania with her mother and two younger sisters. Not long after that, Musha's mother Devorah and younger sister, Rachel, were selected for deportation, too old and too young to be useful in a labor camp. As her mother was taken away, Musha promised she would always take care of Leah. Together, the sisters survived a succession of labor and concentration camps in Plaszow, Strazdenhof, a subcamp of Kaiserwald and, finally, Sophienwald, a subcamp of Stutthof.
In February 1945, they were taken on a death march through northern Poland, as the Germans attempted to hide the evidence of their genocide. Though Musha did keep her final word to her mother, looking after her sister, in the final days of their march, Leah carried her sick and weaker sister. Both credited each other with their survival. In March 1945, they were liberated by Soviet troops and made their way through a series of displaced persons camps, ending in Northern Italy, near Lake Como, where Musha met her husband, Froyim Urman, a survivor from the greater Lublin area of Poland. While awaiting visas for Paris, where Froyim's only surviving uncle was living, Froyim, a tailor, made garments from rags and Musha taught Hebrew to children in the camp. Ultimately, they made it to France by crossing the Alps with the help of trained mountain climbers.
They lived there for five years, Froyim taking on the name Felix, and Musha, Michelle, before emigrating to the United States in 1950 after the birth of their daughter Dorothy. The couple initially lived in the Bronx, had a son Mark in 1952, and moved to the Mill Basin section of Brooklyn in 1958. Felix was the first member of the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union (ILGWU) to have two children win the union's scholarship for college. His wife Michelle passed away in 1971, at the age of 45, never knowing her five grandchildren.