One of Auschwitz’s Youngest Survivors Recounts Her Childhood During The Holocaust in New Memoir
A memoir written by one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp will be released in September and will tell her story of survival and perseverance while growing up during the Holocaust.
Tova Friedman, now 83, was born Tola Grossman in Gdynia, Poland, in 1938, a year before the start of World War II. She was six years old when Auschwitz was liberated in January 1945.
In “The Daughter of Auschwitz” — co-written with former war reporter Malcolm Brabant— Friedman recounts her harrowing experiences living in a Jewish ghetto, a Nazi labor camp, and Auschwitz, where she escaped death numerous times, including improbably surviving a Nazi gas chamber. Friedman and her mother hid from Nazi firing squads right before the liberation of Auschwitz by hiding among corpses.
In the book’s prologue, Friedman writes that the purpose of her telling such her story was to try and “immortalize what happened, to ensure that those who died are not forgotten. Nor the methods that were used to exterminate them.”
“To forget is to repeat,” she told The Algemeiner. “I think it’s true of everything in every situation. If you forget this is dangerous than you’ll repeat it, you’ll do it again.”
“I did not wake up one day in Auschwitz,” she continued. “It doesn’t happen like that. It happened very slowly. The process is slow. The books were burned and then other rights are taken away. Hitler could have been stopped along the whole process. I always think of it as cancer. If you get a tiny bit of cancer in your body and you don’t take care of it, within no time the whole body becomes cancerous.”
Friedman has shared her Holocaust survival story at schools, colleges, places of worship and prisons. She also has a TikTok account, started by her grandson, in which she shares memories about the Holocaust and answers questions about the Nazi genocide. Her TikTok page has more than 450,000 followers and her posts have garnered more than 7 million “likes.” But this is the first time that she’s putting her memories down in a hard-copy book, which also has a foreword by Sir Ben Kingsley, who called Friedman a “heroine of truth and memory.”
Friedman admitted that recounting her memories of the Holocaust for the book was psychologically difficult, particularly as she discussed her mother, who also survived Auschwitz, while her father survived the Dachau concentration camp.
“Now that I’m a grandmother and a mother, [I know] how hard it must have been for her to have a five, six-year-old child, and try to protect that child from certain death, and either giving me her bread so I can live while she was starving,” she said. “That was very hard for me. It was hard because when you’re talking about it [in a lecture], you sort of finish, done, you go home. But writing, you think about it a lot. It was a hard process.”
Friedman told The Algemeiner she believes her mother died young because she lived with “survivors guilt” after World War II.
“People feel guilty that they’re alive and they don’t have any joy,” she said. “My mother felt like this. That’s why she died very young. It’s a guilt that they survived.”
But Friedman said she prefers to live a life based on a concept she calls “survivor’s growth.”
“I feel that I have an obligation to talk about them and I have an obligation to make a good life and contribute to the world rather than hide from the world,” she said. “People talk about survivor’s guilt but they forget that many survivors did extremely well in America and all over,” she explained. They rebuilt families, they became successful financially, they gave back to society, it’s amazing how much our people healed and how they were able to do it.”
Friedman now lives in New Jersey, working as a therapist, and has four children and eight grandchildren. She spoke passionately about the importance of Israel, where she worked earlier in her life as a teacher at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
“It can never happen to that level [of the Holocaust] because we have Israel,” she said. “Such a fabulous, strong, self-confident country and it’s a protector of the Jews all over the world … I’m very upset about what’s going on but it’s never going to reach [the level of the Holocaust]. We have Israel to go to for safety now.”