Henry Friedman Shares Survivor Story for Yom Hoshoah

Daniel Kim

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Whitman students, faculty and local residents arrived at Cordiner Hall to hear the story of Henry Friedman on Sunday, April 27. Friedman is a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, and he told the story of his daily struggles avoiding concentration camps and police officers.

To recognize Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Office of Religion and Spiritual Life sponsored the event and brought Friedman to campus.

“It is a long standing Whitman tradition to bring in a Holocaust survivor to speak at Whitman. The standard way of observing the holy day is to bring a Holocaust survivor,” said Stuart Coordinator of Religious and Spiritual Life Adam Kirtley.

Friedman began by taking the audience back 70 years and making a connection by stating that he, too, had dreams and hopes like many of us do.

“But in September 1939, my dreams were shattered because I was woken up by the earth shaking. The city of Brody was being bombed by Nazi Germany,” said Friedman.  “Finally, when daylight came and the bombs stopped falling, I went outside and I couldn’t believe my eyes. My city was burning.”

At a young age, Friedman experienced the occupation of Poland by communist Russia. The Russians had stripped his parents’ textile store away from them, and his family completely lost ownership of the store. Although the Russians took away the family’s possessions in Brody, his parents had a farm 10 kilometers outside Brody.

“My father took the family to the farm. My life did not change that much. For my mother, it was very, very difficult because on the farm there was not any electricity [or] running water,” said Friedman. “I continued with my education, under communist rule.”

In June 1941, Nazi Germany had bombed Brody again and had occupied his city. The first order was that everyone was required to register, Jews and non-Jews alike, in order to receive a job. Some of those identified as Jews were taken away to concentration camps, never to be heard from again. In addition, 250 Jews were shot without questioning.

One month after the German occupation began, another order was issued, stating that all Jewish people had to wear a six-pointed star that identified them as Jews. His mother was beaten severely on the upper arms while heading into Brody, while the Germans made his cousin empty an outhouse with her bare hands, disrupting her appetite for weeks.

“We were afraid of being Jews because there was no law protecting a Jew. They could beat [or] rape a Jew and not go to jail,” said Friedman.

He told a story about a young Christian girl working as a maid at the local police station. She overheard some police officers talking about sending his father to a concentration camp. His father was able to flee from the Nazis in time to escape from being captured.

“That young girl ran through deep snow, risking her life, and because of her heroism, I am alive today,” said Friedman.

“When the Germans were coming to our farm to pick us up, we went into hiding in a chicken coup and that was one of the darkest nights that I can remember,” said Friedman. “This was the time my family disappeared from existence as far as the Nazis knew.”

The owner of the chicken coup did not tell her husband or two teenage sons that she was hiding Jews, and Friedman called her an angel. He, his mother, his brother and a Jewish teacher were stuck in an area just big enough to lie down for 18 months.

Friedman told his story to help everyone understand how inhumane those times were and to keep the story of survivors and victims alive.

“There a lot of folks who survived the Holocaust who have committed to telling the story. There is sort of a personal commitment on behalf of a lot of people that have survived to keep their story alive, to keep their remembrance alive,” said Kirtley.

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