Frieda was born in Krakow, Poland, probably around 1918 or 1919, the daughter of Jacob Singer and Rachel Entenberg. The family was large--Frieda had eight brothers and one sister--and they lived a simple, farming life. Frieda was very intelligent but received hardly any education. One thing she did learn was how to sew, and that would one day help save her life. Right before the war Frieda married a dance instructor whose last name was Friedmann, and they opened a dance studio in Krakow.|
When the Germans attacked Poland in 1939, Frieda tried to save herself. She could not save her family: all of her relatives were killed during the war, except for one brother who died right after the war, and one sister who stayed with her throughout the concentration camps and eventually married another Polish Holocaust survivor and emigrated to New York. Frieda was first in the Krakow ghetto, with some members of her family. From there she was shipped to Plazszow, where she used to tell her children about the commander of the camp, Amon Goeth, who used to randomly shoot/execute prisoners from the window of his lovely home overlooking the camp. [Oskar Schindler saved his Jewish workers by bribing Goeth into allowing Schindler to build a sub-camp.] When the Germans liquidated the labor camp, the survivors were put on trains to Auschwitz for the selection -- labor or gas chamber. From Auschwitz Frieda was taken to Bergen-Belsen. Her work as a seamstress making German soldier uniforms helped save her life, and she survived somehow until she was liberated from Bergen-Belsen. This is how Frieda described her Holocaust experience in her short story, "Enough": "I was in Bergen-Belsen. I had also been in Auschwitz for a short while. I had spent the first two years of the war making uniforms and clothes for the Germans in Plaszow, the labor camp near Krakow, where I grew up. I was young and in good physical shape then. Otherwise I would have been killed. In Bergen-Belsen I got very weak and was put in a typhus block with about two thousand other girls. All around me everyone was sick. We slept on the cold, hard floors, we ran high fevers, and we were dying. The Germans hadn't fed us for a long time, and everyone was starving." To cope with the experience, Frieda blocked out emotion and lost the ability to cry. She would dream of being fed by her dead mother, so that she woke up not interested in eating. Many of the other girls, in the meantime, were fed ground glass as the war was coming to an end and the SS sought to eradicate the witnesses to their terrible crimes against the Jews and other camp inmates. That hardness--as well as sadness and anger--among many other emotional and physical issues, stayed with her for most of the rest of her life.
Salomon Frydman was born on October 3, 1911 in Poland. [His daughter says Bedzin, Poland; both the Jewish Holocaust Register of survivors printed in Pinkas HaNitzolim I & II, 1945, and the Social Security Applications and Claims Index list his birthplace as Zarnowiec, Poland.] He was the son of Mailach Frydman and Chana L Larhten. The family included six children; Salomon was the oldest boy. His father died young, so Salomon left school and in his early teens began helping to support his family as a peddler. By the time the war began, Salomon was married with two little girls, about two and four, and with a third child on the way.
Salomon took his wife and children to an attic, where they hid. One day he went looking for food, and when he came back, they were gone. His wife, a beautiful woman, had left only her sweater behind, and he would carry that sweater around with him. He was captured soon afterward and found himself doing slave labor in various camps, ending up in Bergen-Belsen. At Bergen-Belsen he was assigned to the kitchens, where he took the opportunity--and risk--of stealing food for some of the men who shared his barrack. One of them, a man named Urbach, who ended up in Venezuela after the war, would become a lifelong friend and would tell Salomon's children during a visit about how he owed his life to Salomon.
As the British and Russians were closing in on Bergen-Belsen near the war's end in 1945, many of the prisoners were marched through the countryside--with the Nazis expecting most would die of exhaustion and starvation--and therefore could not bear witness against their captors. Salomon was among them. He would later recall lying on some hay in a farm when someone he knew came by, telling him that his wife and children had indeed perished when his wife, who was able bodied, refused to leave her young children during a selection. She was taken with them to be gassed. Salomon left the sweater--and any last shred of hope--on that haystack. He would not talk about that family or the war until many years later, when his son Max was seeking an emotional deferment during the Vietnam war years, since he felt sincerely that his parents could not survive the possibility of losing a child in another war after what they had experienced. His son appeared before a local draft board with a statement from his father -- and the deferment was granted.
After their liberation from Bergen-Belsen, Frieda and Salomon ended up in refugee camps, where they would separately get confirmations of the terrible fate of their relatives and most of their friends. [Frieda had seen some of her family killed in front of her eyes (a brother was hanged). Her only sister survived with her.
Right after the war, America did not accept any of these unfortunate refugees -- the survivors of the Holocaust. But Sweden was one of the few countries that did open up its heart and homes -- in Sweden's case, to about 5,000 survivors. Frieda and Salomon--though they didn't know each other yet--were among those selected to be resettled in Sweden. Fortunately, this time it was to be a selection to start life again. They spent a year in a hospital in Halmstad, a small town on Sweden's west coast, overcoming typhus, beatings, malnutrition and gaining new sets of teeth, that had fallen out or rotted away as a result of their ordeal. Since Frieda's first husband was named Friedmann, when she learned that another man with the same sounding name was in the hospital with her, she wondered if a miracle had taken place and reports of her husband's death were wrong. She went to Salomon's bedside and, while disappointed, they soon started seeing each other and eventually married on Christmas Day 1946 (since the people they worked with in a local factory were off that day and so they could have a few people in attendance at their wedding ceremony). Their two children--daughter Rachel and son Max--were born in Sweden. They would always remember their time in Sweden with great fondness, but Salomon had several first cousins living in New York, arriving well before the war, and they encouraged the Friedmans to come to the United States. Salomon was also concerned that there were only a few Jews left in Halmstad and he wanted to be somewhere where his children could grow up learning more about their culture, religion and heritage.
Frieda and Salomon sailed with their two children on the Scandinavian American line ship the SS Gripsholm, leaving Gothenburg, Sweden, on December 28, 1951, and arriving in New York on January 10, 1952, aided by a refugee organization named USNA- the United Service for New Americans. [Salomon would soon change his name from Frydman to Friedman in order to sound, he would say, more "American."] The family first lived in a cheap hotel on West 57th Street, then called the Henry Hudson Hotel, just a few blocks from where their ship had docked. They were resettled in a small apartment in Coney Island just a few blocks from the famous Cyclone roller coaster. [Their son Max would later recall that for all the years they lived near all the amusement park rides for which Coney Island was known, they were never allowed on any rides -- except for a very slow moving carousel. They were all too dangerous, their parents thought. Also, the family had little money to spend on such extravagances.] They would live on refugee agency assistance money as well as some reparations money received from Germany for mental and physical damage from an organization called the United Restitution Agency. From Coney Island -- which was a particularly dangerous area, they later moved to Brighton Beach. For most of his time in the U.S., Salomon worked six days a week as a clerk at a warehouse in another dangerous area in Brooklyn, gathering orders from supermarkets for various housewares. While he never made much more than $250 a week, he was clearly a bright man, and good with numbers. He would actually become a manager of sorts at his job--the only one he held in the States, till a heart attack ensured his retirement. For the first ten years in the United States they lived in a three room apartment, where Max shared the living room with his parents, and Rachel got the one small bedroom. They looked out onto an alley and would spend too many times hiding from their landlord because they didn't have the money to pay their rent. They would turn off all the lights and their son says, hide in a coat closet till the landlord's representative stopped banging on the apartment door. They remained in Brighton Beach until Salomon developed Alzheimer's Disease. That's when they moved to Mobile in 1992 to be near their daughter Rachel, who had moved to the city in 1977. Salomon died the following year, and Frieda died in 1998, so they did not live in Mobile for all that long.
The couple each dealt differently with their past. One way in which Salomon seemed to cope was to become very involved with a local synagogue, where he went three times a day -- to pray and help out. He almost never talked about his wartime experiences, whereas Frieda would often speak about her experiences in the concentration camps, and was "full of stories." Indeed, nearly anytime she met someone new, she would introduce herself with one of her Holocaust stories, which, in a sense, she viewed as her only real identity. She would talk about foraging for food, being beaten, watching hangings. She recounted how she had noticed that her sister, who was older and not in as good physical shape as she was, had been selected to stand with some people who looked weak. Frieda was selected--by the famous Dr. Mengele--to go with the healthier looking ones, and she decided something was wrong. She ran to her sister and pulled her into the group that looked to be in better shape. Frieda would tell her children that the dogs went after both of them, biting them and tearing at their skin. Still she didn't relent and they made it to a place of relative safety.
Salomon had recurring nightmares for the rest of his life, and would often wake up the others in his family with his screaming. Frieda did the same, and she exhibited other effects of her years in the camps. She would throw up most nights after dinner. Indeed, food was an obsession with her: she would horde food and hide food, and she forced food on her children until they got rather chubby and the school nurse came to the home to talk about it. The nurse wrote down in her record: "Mother says she likes fat children." Later Frieda decided that the children had to go on a diet, and for several years she strictly controlled what they ate until they lost weight. She would hide any and all sweets from her children, who would forage for them when their parents went out for a walk. She insisted that peanut butter and white bread caused cancer. As for Frieda herself, she never went anywhere without having food with her. She also lost the ability to laugh or even to catch on to jokes. Something might be said to the couple, and Salomon would smile while Frieda would get insulted. Humor was simply not in her vocabulary. And there were things she could not do. For example, she could not put a puzzle together. Here was an intelligent woman who had learned to speak Polish, German, Swedish, and English, yet she could not put a puzzle together. Perhaps they were too abstract for someone who could only deal with reality. She remained fearful of dogs for the rest of her life. Meanwhile she was a chain smoker for nearly her entire life, even smoking on the Jewish Sabbath, which was forbidden, and she would hide cigarettes in the one shared bathroom in their apartment and smoke there.
Among other things, Frieda had a great sense of guilt for surviving. And she always felt guilty for her mother's death. She revered her mother. It seems that at the outset of the German occupation, Frieda and her mother were staying with Frieda's sister, Gertrude and her young daughter. And while Frieda and her sister went to search for some safe haven, their mother stayed with the child. While they were gone, the Germans came and took Frieda's mother and niece away. Frieda always wondered if her leaving her mother alone with the child had doomed her mother. Frieda spent a good part of her life thinking about the many other what-if's in her life--what if her dance studio had flourished? What if all her brothers had survived; what a large and happy family they would have been! She compared her sad life to others constantly and lived in a past that could have been different and thinking about what kind of present might have resulted.
Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, Frieda passed some of her Holocaust traumas on to her children. Mobile resident Rachel would grow up, realizing that the world she lived in at home was not the same as everyone else's world. It was a kind of alternate universe and Rachel didn't see herself fitting with the rest of the world in some respects. And while Rachel and Max knew that they were the most important things in the lives of their parents -- which was of some comfort, but they also experienced some of the suffering their parents would continue to endure. Their mother's stories impacted both children as well. Rachel says that she spent much of her childhood "expecting someone to come and take me away." Fear would pervade many aspects of their lives. For instance, Max was told too many times that he was settling in his life--as a survivor might--instead of taking appropriate risks in his career.
Salomon succumbed to his Alzheimer's disease, dying on March 9, 1993. Frieda died of heart failure on May 2, 1998. They are both buried in the Springhill Avenue Temple Cemetery in Mobile. Their son Max writes: "I always wondered if at the end of my father's life, the dementia had finally given him some peace, wiping out memories that were always just beneath the surface. The latest research, after all, is that beatings about the head, as our father most certainly endured for too many years, might have actually sped up the development of his Alzheimer's disease. And while the Mobile community welcomed them, in many ways our parents ultimately both died as strangers in a strange land."
After 50 years, concentration camp survivor Frieda Freidman can't forget the horror
Mobile Register, January 27, 1995
Holocaust Survivor Frieda Freidman dies
Memories of her five years in Nazi concentration camps haunted the 85-year-old native of Poland, says her daughter
Mobile Register, May 5, 1998
Her mother filled her head with stories about camps and killings and a family destroyed. Her mother now is gone, but Mobile's Rachel Borak can't put the terrifying stories away
Mobile Register, July 21, 1998
Frieda's story about how her mother fed her in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp
Salomon - alien registration card