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    Posted January 27, 2015 by
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    70th anniversary of Liberation Auschwitz-Birkenau


    The changing face of bitter memories
    (70 years since Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau)


    Isaac Friedman (1914-1986) &
    Rachel (Mandelman) Friedman (1918-2013)


    by Valery Oisteanu


    The Polish question and the Jewish problem.


    How did European nations, particularly Poland, allow the Holocaust to happen? According to Hanna Arendt, people who criminally obeyed the genocidal fascist bureaucracy of the Nazis or willingly collaborated, were banal-evil mediocrities, just cogs in a death-machine, an aberration, and a temporary mass psychosis. Poland and its population was Hitler’s first victim, and Polish Jews were just “statistics of death” for a “Juden-Frei Europe.” A tragedy of historical proportion was just beginning and the whole world could not stop it for seven years.
    Here is the story of my wife’s family, Friedman, Jewish Ashkenazi scholars from Lodz, where pre-war population was composed of 300.000 Poles and 200.000 Jews.


    Before the war my father-in-law Isaac Friedman was known in Lodz as a family-photographer, he took pictures of Jewish families and he knew everyone. From his letters I extracted some interesting names that he remembered from Lodz photo-sessions before the war.
    Such is my quest, for lost names of Jewish artists and writers from Poland who perished with their art, books and memorabilia. An illustrious example is Bruno Shultz a painter and writer whose manuscript Methuselah a full-length absurd novel was lost during the war.


    In 1939 Isaac Friedman was conscripted into the Polish army and sent to the front and during the German occupation of Poland became a POW. In the trenches, his own army “buddies” reported to the German guards that he was a Jew. He was then segregated into different quarters, but soon after they were all released. The Jewish POWs, though, were released into the Lodz-ghetto that proved to be, he said, worse than the German POW-camp.


    Short history of the Lodz-ghetto

    Ultimately the authorities moved all the Jews into the ghetto and forced them to wear a yellow star with the word “Jude” on it.
    In the Lodz-ghetto those able to work, and who could find work, were practically slaves working in the German run factories. They were paid only in small rations of food and through the winter of 1944 over 40,000 Jews died of starvation and medical neglect in the Lodz-ghetto, which was surrounded by barbed wire. Tens of thousands were deported to the camps gradually, first to the Chelmo death camp, then in September of 1942 the Nazis rounded up another 15,000 elderly Jews and children for “Relocation,” but almost everyone realized that it was for the Death Camps.


    My mother in law Rachel Mandelman came from an orthodox, well to do Jewish family. Meanwhile in the ghetto, in a small room Rachel’s Mandelman mother died of malnutrition and medical neglect and her father was caught in the round-ups and sent to Auschwitz, where he perished.


    A short note on a long history of the Lodz ghetto


    In 1944 the whole Lodz ghetto was liquidated and only a small crew of 700 Jews for cleaning the ghetto streets and building was left behind. The crew was later to be sent to the gas chambers but miraculously survived.
    Some survivors (16 to date) hid in bunkers, clutching poison in small vials, for more than a week, till advancing Russian forces liberated them.
    Recently 3000 negatives of photographs surfaced which are a documentation of ghetto-inhabitants, buried before the deportation. Some of the photographs are of the so-called elite or the “protected class”. They featured smiling children in neatly pressed clothed and according to Lizette Alvarez-London for the NYT those picture represent the so-called elite. Elite refers to those that worked as ghetto supervisors or police officers or held coveted jobs, among them Chaim Rumkowski the feared and often despised leader of the Lodz’s Ghetto Jewish Council. According to the survivors he used the powers of deportation to the death camps, against those that opposed him and for his own interests.
    Only 5 % of the entire Jewish population (10.000) of the Lodz inhabitants survived the ordeal of the ghetto and the Holocaust.


    The infernal history of Auschwitz:


    In 1939 Hitler annexed the old Polish town of Oswiencim to his Third Reich as Auschwitz, and a year later the Nazis started the conversion of the town’s abandoned barracks into a concentration camp. First inmates, a group of Polish political prisoners, arrived on June 14, 1940. In addition to Poles there were soon imprisoned Soviet POW’s, Gypsies, and other nationals from the rest of German-occupied Europe to suffer and die in hellish conditions. In 1942, notably after the construction of the nearby Birkenau (Auschwitz II) concentration camp, trainloads of European Jews began to arrive. Most of them were immediately put to death in the Birkenau gas chambers. Between June 1941 and January 1945 about one million men, women and children perished in the three concentration camps: Auschwitz proper, Birkenau and Monowitz. At its peak the whole complex was a deadly prison to some 150,000 inmates who were either murdered outright or starved and worked to death. Three names will live in infamy: Dr Menghele, Robert Mulka Adjutant-Comander and Wilhelm Boger Inernal Security notorius for his torture.


    When Lodz ghetto Jews arrived in boxed cars, it was a total panic. At the triage Rachel was selected for a labor crew and soon was send by truck to Germany to work in a canon factory that was sewing uniforms for officers. Isaac almost didn’t made it because of his height, so first he was motioned to move to the column selected and destined for gas-chambers, but in the first stages of new arrivals he moved invisibly to the other side selected for the work, sneaking under the arm of a very tall German officer who did not see him change places.
    Rachel had to walk to work daily barefooted in the snow, because her wooden sabots that she was given accumulated progressively more and more snow on the bottom of the wooden soles till it was impossible to walk on them.
    Food was very limited, but somehow she managed to have some extra rations and sometimes from the capo that took a liking to her, because she was young and good-looking.
    To survive in such conditions in the winter one must supplement oneself with enough food.
    In one of her candid recollections of surviving hunger she tells the tragic story of Jewish girls from her crew sneaking out from the workplace to prostitute for food with prison guards and German officers.  .She was rewarded by those girls with food-cans from the take.
    Isaac was send to a machine factory with others and was loosing weight from the starvation rations. Both recounted that sometimes the cleaning crew for the soldier’s barracks stole some extra-bread or leftover beer
    Friedman’s were a large family: his father Max Friedman also survived the Holocaust using his remaining possessions a large diamond to bribe an officer not to send him to heavy work detail. After liberation Max got married in a DP (Displaced Persons) camp and was also accepted for American immigration. Here he had a son, called Morris, born in the Bronx. Max’s sister Pearl also came to America in 1949 and was not around for very long. The family also had 5-6 uncles and aunts and each had 6-7 children ,all perished in the camps (more than 30) except 3 female cousins that survived.


    After the war


    The long way “home” began from 1945-till April 1949. Isaac Friedman was also interned in a DP (Displaced Persons) camp in Bavaria in Landsburg-Am Lech, (Hitler’s retreat since 1923, Berchtesgaden) waiting for sponsorship and papers for immigration first to Israel and, after changing the plans, to the USA. Meanwhile they underent training to learn language and productive skills,  Later he developed a small business called Louloubell with a partner (Oscar), running a factory , that produced children and adult  caps on Broadway in Manhattan ( before they were universally worn).


    His wife Rachel (Mandelman) Friedman also survived the camps and was reunited with Isaac through his efforts to find her. In the last days of the war, she was marched from Germany to another camp, Teresienstad in Czechoslovakia. After a while she heard that Isaac was in Landsberg em Lech looking for her and soon after that they were reunited in Czechoslovakia and together they applied first for immigration to Israel and later on to USA.
    During the waiting time for the visa, a daughter, Ruth, was born, in Landsberg, and she was brought to New York City by Navy ship “ USS General W. G. Haan” as a child of nine months old.


    After settling in Bensonhurst-Brooklyn (1767-67street) with his wife Rachel and daughter Ruth, seven years later they had another daughter Rita. They subsequently moved to Middle Village Queens where they bought a two family house on the corner of Dry Harbor Road and Penelope Ave.
    Isaac build, together with his partner Oscar, a small business of producing baseball caps and children's hats in a  factory on Broadway called” Lou-Lou-bell”. Rachel also worked in the shop. I met them in 1973 sept 9,  with long hair down to my waist, on the floor in Ruth’s apartment (my then fiancé) in Fresh Meadows-Queens. They were so shocked that could not even move or enter through the door.
    Isaac and Rachel retired to Miami, Florida in 1981 where they lived till he was diagnosed with lung cancer caused by inhalation of tiny textile fibers from cutting the textile material for hats, fibers that settle in the lungs creating a tumor. He died peacefully in his sleep on January 4,1986 in Florida.
    August 2004 Rachel Friedman and her daughters: Ruth & Rita, her son Isaac, and Henry and Cathy(cousins) went to Poland to commemorate 60 years since the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto in 1944.
    The trip included Warsaw, Krakow, Lodz and the death camps. 600 Jews are still living in the Lodz today. Lodz’s splendid main synagogues were all destroyed. Many of the other synagogues became garages, warehouses or libraries A late nineteen century synagogue is in use for service now on “Revolution 1905” street #28 and a Jewish cemetery called “New cemetery” founded in 1892 is the main tourist attraction in Lodz.
    Recently a lady friend, Mary Lou Brotherson, interviewed Rachel Friedman for Holocaust archive on video in her apartment in Hollandale-Florida about her personal experience during Holocaust.
    My wife Ruth taught Holocaust-history at Temple Emanuel and often brought her late mother as a speaker to her classes.


    I personally have been writing and researching after the war, under communism, the historic cases of survivors and victims. Sometimes with great difficulty, especially in Romania, where the struggle against cultural amnesia concerning the Holocaust still existed. There they had tried to trivialize and marginalize the events of the prewar violent anti-Semitism and till recently did not totally even recognize the existence of Holocaust in my native country Romania. When often asked :where I am from? I say Odessa where my grandfather had a pharmacy, as a lasting representative of Jewish culture, although I was born in Kazakhstan in 1943 in an interment camp for Bassarabian refugees. My maternal grandfather died in combat in Stalingrad, my grandmother, and my mother all fought against fascism from 1934 till 1945 and sacrificed their lives to see the nazis defeated. My late father, a decorated officer in WWII, was instrumental in creating the first free-Romanian army on the allied side. They spoke Russian, Romanian and Yiddish and were often traditional Jews, not very religious ones. Unfortunately Yiddishkeit as a language, a theater and a literature is almost history. Many Jewish artists were killed and their works were destroyed. 120.000 European Jewish musicians were exterminated. The events of the destruction of Jewish European culture and its rich cultural history must be documented and preserved.


    What can we do that the memories of Auschwitz do not become a tourist attraction?


    The site of the Nazi notorious Auschwitz death camp is an hour’s drive from Krakow. Every year some 500,000 visitors come to Oswiencim, an industrial town of 45,000, to see the Auschwitz. Half of them are Poles, and the rest mostly from the USA, Germany, the UK, France, Italy, and Israel. Over 25 million people have already visited the place.
    Before the Nazis came to Oswiencim and set up their monstrous Auschwitz concentration camp here, a small Jewish community had led peaceful lives there for generations, as in many other Polish towns in the around the country.
    Several years ago in September 2000 the Auschwitz Jewish Center had opened in the newly renovated Chevra Lomdei Mishnayot Synagogue at 5 Ks. Skarbka Pl. amid the historical quarter of Oswiencim, a twenty minutes’ walk from the Auschwitz Museum. The center both shows and commemorates the life and culture of victims of the Holocaust as exemplified in the largely forgotten history of the Oswiencim Jews. One may see the synagogue itself, an exhibition on the Jewish everyday life before 1939, and a short film based on a survivor’s testimony recorded by Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation.
    In 2004 Rachel decided the go back to Lodz as part of a large group of survivors to commemorate the 50 anniversary of the liquidation of the ghetto. for three full days the survivors were honored and commemorated and many activities organized in their honor.  The Friedmans on the trip. included Rachel Friedman, Ruth Oisteanu, Rita Hattem, Isaac Hattem, Henry Branch (cousin and a child survivor) and Ketzela (his girlfriend). They all planted trees and attended official memorials. Unfortunately the house of Rachel Friedman and her family were  demolished by the communists and new houses were there  in its place. It is possible that the polish authorities were being cautious not to engage in returning confiscated property from the Jewish Holocaust survivors.
    From my wife’s video and photos, I was able to again see the horrifying mountains of shoes, hair, shaving kits, eyeglasses, suitcases and even human prosthesis. A monumental horror that occurred in front of a whole world that turned away and many cases helped. Now in January of 2015 we commemorate seventy years since the liberation of Auschwitz with a few hundred survivors still alive. The songs and prayers of all those millions of victims ring in our ears. Do not forget 6 million Jewish victims! O god, Never, Never Again!

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