May 24, 1999
History came alive in a very real way recently at Inglemoor High School when Holocaust survivor Henry Friedman spoke to students there.
Friedman was born in 1928 in Brody, Poland, into a Jewish family. In June 1941, when Nazis occupied Brody, all Jews were told to register and then were promptly shipped off to concentration camps. Fortunately, by this time, Friedman, his mother, father, and younger brother were living outside of the town on a farm.
But Friedman remembers a soldier seeing his mother's gold wedding ring and going after her. When he tried to stop the attack, Friedman was flung into the corner. Finally, the soldier got the ring by breaking his mother's fingers.
On a trip into Brody, Friedman's family was told to identify themselves as Jews by wearing patches. Because the family refused, soldiers beat his mother's arms and shoulders so that she could not raise them above waist level for weeks.
Friedman also remembered a cousin who was ordered to empty an outhouse with her bare hands, after which she couldn't eat for days because of nausea and gagging.
In 1942, the Jews that were living in areas outside Brody were ordered to move closer to the town, but Friedman's father convinced a nearby farmer that his knowledge and skills were needed on the farm. He was issued a permit to work as a farmhand. Friedman's father then began to prepare hiding places for his family, and when they discovered they were to be sent to a concentration camp, they pretended to pack.
Instead, Friedman, his mother, brother, and a woman teacher went to a barn owned by the parents of Julia Symchucks, a 17-year-old Christian woman. The group hid in a small loft where they had room to lie side by side or to sit up, and could only whisper or use sign language.
At first, they were fed soup and bread twice a day, but when food became scarce, they were limited to one meal. Friedman recalls being so hungry that he would steal bread from his brother and tell him that rats had eaten it.
When the group went into hiding, Friedman's mother was pregnant, and as the time for the baby's birth grew near, there was great fear that the baby's crying would lead to their discovery. The family was faced with making an unthinkable decision: the baby must not live. His mother gave birth silently, biting on a cloth. Right after the baby was born, she and the teacher committed murder.
To this day, Friedman wonders what it would have been like to have had that sister in his life. The knowledge that he helped make the decision when he was only 14 and starving to death does not dull the regret he feels in his heart.
Finally, in 1944, Friedman was listening through a knothole in the side of the barn and heard soldiers coming. He was terrified. When the soldiers came closer, however, Friedman heard not the voices of Germans, but of Russians.
To the surprise of the soldiers, the group scrambled out of the barn. Flea and tick marks covered their bodies; they could not walk because their muscles were too weak, and they had not bathed in 18 months. They were also close to starving to death.
Friedman moved with the rest of his family to the U.S. in 1949. Friedman never spoke of his experiences in hiding until 1983 when he read an article stating the Holocaust never happened. He was enraged. If the Holocaust never happened then where was everyone he had known in Poland?
But his anger drove him to tell his story. The telling has gotten somewhat easier, but at 71 years old, 55 years after he was freed, and after speaking at countless schools and writing a book, Friedman still has trouble talking about his experiences. He is thankful to America for his new life and for the chance to share his experiences.
Friedman returned to Poland once when he visited the family of Julia Symchucks and thanked them. He also contacted the Israeli government, which sent public gratitude to the Symchucks family for their courage in hiding the young Jewish family.
Henry Friedman closed by saying that he does not hate the Germans for what they did to his family, his village, and to six million other Jews. Hatred consumes, he continued, and he has chosen to live his life as if each day were a gift.
Friedman challenged the audience by saying, "If I do not hate the Germans for all they have done to me and those I love, then neither should you hate what you hate."