Erno Friedman

"Be good to each other, educate yourself, and be alert."

Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Bregszaz, Czechoslovakia
Name of father, occupation
Morris, Bought and sold horses
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Adele Berliner, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, two sisters, Erzi (Blima) and Sara and me
Who survived the Holocaust?
Only Erzi and I survived
I was 15 years old and I didn’t look Jewish, which was an advantage.  I was strong like a bull and I was always playing football (soccer).  Because I didn’t look Jewish, I could be amongst my non-Jewish friends if anyone ever came around.  I never wore my yellow star; I just kept it in my pocket.  
I couldn’t believe what was happening in my town.  One day a Hungarian policeman, with a feather in his cap, watched as an old man, coming home from Shabbat (Sabbath) services, was beat up in the street.  Those were no policeman.  I told my father but he told me to keep quiet; that is how things were.   
One day, the Hungarian officials, with bullhorns and loudspeakers, told the Jews to assemble and to bring one suitcase.  We were taken to a brick factory where there was no food or cooking.  A friend and I had a permit to leave the ghetto, to get food and to bring it back.  Jews kept arriving from the surrounding area and every so often 600 or more would be taken in cattle cars to Auschwitz.  We didn’t know anything about Auschwitz but after three months at this brick factory, I started to think something was not right.  
My father and other young men were taken to work battalions.  The last thing my father said to me was that he was going to find out what was going on and to take care of the rest of the family.
When anyone arrived at the factory, there were buckets lined up on the floor and everyone was instructed to deposit their watches in one bucket, their gold in another, etc, etc.  I saw these buckets sitting there and being only a kid, so I stole a lot of the items.  At one time I had watches lined all the way up my arm. 
When I was taken to Auschwitz, I was in line to take a shower.  Two Polish Jews at the doors to the showers spoke to me in Yiddish and told me that if I take a shower, I’d be dead.  Dying from taking a shower?!?!  I couldn’t understand what that meant but I stepped out of line, got my clothes and went to where another group of Jews were mingling.  There I found my uncle.  He said from this moment on, I am your father and you are my son.  My uncle was preparing to go to work and told me to go with him and not to say a word.  At one point my uncle got very sick.
I was not registered to work with my uncle’s group and one day while we loading onto the wagons to work, the SS took a count and there was one worker too many.  They demanded that the unregistered person step forward.  My uncle told me to keep my head down.  He said that if I was caught, at 15 years old, I was too young to work and I would be killed in the showers.  The SS called out again and again and finally just grabbed someone else and took them off the wagon.  That was the first time I was lucky.
At another point in time while in Auschwitz, we were gathered in line to get tattoos, which would be our number at the camp.  We no longer had a name.  All the time I was in line, I was watching people getting tattooed and saw the SS “burning” the inmate’s skin.  When it was my turn, they started but I wasn’t going to let them burn my skin so I took off running.  There were people everywhere milling around so no one came after me.  
After two months in Auschwitz, my uncle and I were transferred to a camp near Wolfsberg, Germany.  We were in a forest cutting down trees.  We slept in the woods in three-tiered bunks.  We rose between 5:00 and 6:00 am and were given a cup of black coffee.  We would be out in the woods during all types of weather.  Lunch consisted of soup, which was just warm liquid but it did warm us up.  At supper, we had our main meal, which was better soup that sometimes contained potatoes and meat, sometimes not.  We also go two slices of bread.  One of the first nights I tried to save a piece of my bread for the morning but when I woke up, it was stolen.  My uncle said to never try to save any bread – always eat it at one time.
After one or two weeks, I saw a farm with chickens.  I stole a chicken, wrung its neck and smuggled it back into the camp where we cooked it.  The second time I stole a chicken, I hid it in my shirt.  I didn’t realize that blood was dripping onto my clothes from the chicken’s broken neck.  When the SS were asking me what was in my shirt, I kept saying “nothing” because I didn’t even realize that the blood was dripping out.  I was caught literally “red handed”.  I was taken away and held down by two guards and flogged twenty-five times with a rubber baton on my rear end.  After the forth or fifth hit, I was numb and could not feel anything.  
After an inmate was caught three times doing something wrong, they were hung.  The hangings were usually during supper so everyone in the camp would see.  It was quite a scary experience for me seeing the milk box on which the man was standing get kicked out and his tongue come out as he died.  
Sometimes when the SS wanted to have some fun, they would throw candy on the ground and watch the inmates rummage around trying to pick up as much as they could.  
During my entire time in the camps, I lied about my age and said I was 18 years old.  However one day the SS came to round up any young kids and I hid in the toilet until the SS were gone.
After one year at this camp, we were marched from Wolfsberg to Bergen–Belsen.  It was winter time and there was always snow and rain.  The march lasted two or three days.  At night we would sleep in cow pastures.  If someone got sick, they were left where they fell; I did not know what happened to them.  
When I arrived at Bergen-Belsen, I was so weak; I slept on the floor and was eaten up by lice.  The lice could literally suck your blood dry and some inmates were dead within one night after falling asleep.  I was at least strong enough to steal bread from the kitchen and then return to where I was lying.  I weighed 80-85 pounds.  At one point, I stole some rabbits.
We were liberated a short time later.
Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Where did you go after being liberated?
I was sent to Sweden by the Red Cross due to tuberculosis. I wanted to go to Israel because I really wanted to fight but my wife did not want to.
Occupation after the war
Tool and die
Pearl Bornstein, Homemaker
Linda, clinical social worker; Michael, CPA; Robert, businessman, celebrity placements
Seven: Nina, Danny, Zachary, Jacob, David, Ethan, and Allie
What do you think helped you to survive?
My youth, took chances, stole food...I had nothing to lose. I can’t believe, G-d’s truth, that I am here today or how I survived.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Be good to each other, educate yourself, and be alert.
Charles Silow
Interview date:

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