Youngest Known Survivor says Best Birthday Present to Her is Never Forget the Holocaust

Written by Paul R. Kopenkoskey on . Posted in Local

tova225Survivor Tova Friedman said it’s vital to keep the Holocaust on the forefront of public thought.Tova Friedman considers Jan. 27 her birthday, even though it’s not the actual date she was born.

Jan. 27 is when 70 years ago Friedman was among 7,000 prisoners liberated by the Soviet Army from the Auschwitz death camp.

But, Friedman said, being liberated from the Third Reich’s atrocities has not emancipated her from the unsettling memories of the Nazi regime’s systematic mass murder of six million European Jews, known as the Holocaust.

Now 76 years old, Friedman is concerned the passage of time will fade away the lessons that should stay on the forefront of all people with a moral conscience

Holocaust is a warning

“The best present you can give me is to remember,” Friedman said Jan. 13 at Calvin College’s January Series, an annual event that features a wide range of speakers addressing an array of topics. “The Holocaust under Hitler is a warning. Hitler rose and people didn’t believe what he would do. They didn’t believe what could happen.”

Friedman was one of 5,000 Jewish children living in the Polish town of Tomashov, near Lodz before World War II. By the war’s end, only five children from Tomashov were still alive, Friedman said. She is one of the youngest-known survivors of the Holocaust.

Among the six million Jews exterminated, 1.5 million were children, Friedman said.

It’s about those with no voice

“It’s not me I’m talking about, but the 1.5 million who have no voice,” Friedman said. “Poland is a graveyard for our Jewish children. Children were shot on the spot right in front of the parents. When you have no family and children are killed in front of you, you have little incentive.”

Friedman entered Auschwitz at the age of 5 and despite being led to the gas chambers survived with both her parents.

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Her story is told in the 1998 book, “Kinderlager: An Oral History of Young Holocaust Survivors” retitled in 2005, “Surviving Auschwitz: Children of the Shoah” as a companion to a PBS documentary.


Friedman’s personal memories of the Holocaust are fraught with pain and, to a degree, bewilderment that she somehow survived when so many didn’t.

Aspects of the Holocaust still puzzle her. Why did a civilized nation like Germany turn vast swaths of Europe into a murderous atrocity?

tova2225Friedman credits her mother for keeping her alive.Why did the Gestapo guard beat her repeatedly simply for being fidgety? Why was she not shot like so many where when she arrived at Auschwitz?

“Why didn’t they shoot me when I got off the cattle car train?” said Friedman. “I don’t know.”

She still remembers the German shepherds the Nazi guards kept a hair’s breadth away from the prisoners that threatened to sink their teeth into her, and the crematoriums that belched smoke from the chimneys.

Some memories she still can’t recall.

“I have no memory of what I did at the camp,” Friedman said.

Mother saved her life

She credits her mother for saving her life. She would give Friedman a portion of her piece of bread would she could not afford to do so. Towards the end of the war, she had her lay under a dead warm body to protect from Germans looking to kill remaining Jewish prisoners so there were no evidence of the Nazi’s despicable scheme.

The Nazi regime has been defeated but the dark side of human nature remains unchanged, said Friedman, citing the recent shootings in Paris of people who worked for a satirical newspaper.

“Hatred, bigotry grows so quickly,” Friedman said. “I feel as a witness I have to tell you because the eyes of the people who are dead, I still see them. Because I was saved, I can save someone else.”

Author Information
Paul R. Kopenkoskey
About:
Paul R. Kopenkoskey is a full-time freelance writer and editor for an assortment of publications including Grand Rapids Magazine, Grand Rapids Business Journal, and Faith Grand Rapids magazine. He has completed his first novel with the working title, Karl Beguiled. He and his wife, Barb, live in Wyoming, Michigan. They have three children and five grandchildren.

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