I came from a middle class, close knit Orthodox family. My parents owned two stores and lived comfortably.
Before the war, my family and I enjoyed living in the Jewish section of the big city of Lodz, a textile manufacturing town. There were many synagogues, theaters, concerts, movies, all kinds of educational opportunities that we enjoyed. Before the war, the Jews of Lodz did not experience much anti-Semitism, but after Hitler came in 1933, all the Lodzer Jews started being persecuted.
After 1933, my father’s meat factory was not allowed to have ritual kosher meat. I was attending my first year of college, when the war broke out. My parents wanted to educate all of their children. My older brother went to the Yeshiva (Jewish educational institution) and the girls were also sent to school.
The Germans occupied Lodz when the war began. Within days of the occupation, soldiers came to our house in the middle of the night. We were told to take what ever we could and to come outside. There was to be a deportation of people from our neighborhood. My family and I got dressed and took the few small things that they could carry.
It was winter and very, very cold. My family was forced to walk for miles and miles until we came to a train station. There, we were put into a cattle car with a hundred or more other people. It was all closed up with just a little window. There was no food and no place to move. We were pressed against each other like animals. The train stopped and we were let off in Cracow.
There, the Jewish committee set us up in different Jewish homes. Soon after we settled in, I began to make a plan to go home to Lodz. I still didn’t realize what was happening there and why I just couldn’t go home.
It was impossible to travel by train. I paid a man with a horse carriage to hide me and take me back. I wanted to see what was going on there. Along the way there were some Jewish people in small towns who tried to help. I traveled for three days in the freezing cold from Cracow to Lodz by myself smuggled in the back of a carriage. I was just 18 years old.
When I got back, everything in our home was sealed up. I went to the Kapo station. I cried to the policemen and told them that I had just come back (I did not tell them from where), and that my parents were gone. Since my area had not been enclosed in the ghetto yet, I was given permission by the Germans to go into the house. I tore off the seal on the door and went in.
I decided to try to bring my parents back home again. Jews were not allowed to go by train, so once again I had to bribe a driver to smuggle me back to Cracow to retrieve my parents and brother and bring them back to Lodz. And I did.
We lived together there and did what we could to survive. It so happened that our apartment home was located right where the Germans decided to make the Lodz Ghetto, so even after our neighborhood was closed off, we were able to stay in our own house. They even re-opened our delicatessen business again. My father started making salamis again, just as before. I worked until the Germans came and closed up the factory. They took away our meat machines and equipment. Then they closed up the ghetto and my family started selling what was left of the merchandise we still had. We lived off the money we made from that sale.
In the ghetto the Lodz Jews were issued food ration cards. The cards which were given for a week did not supply enough food for even one day. Fortunately, I was a small woman who did not need a lot of food. I was even able to save some food from week to week to share with my family. And that is how my family lived. I remember some people ate all of their week’s rations in one day, and they swelled up and died.
Every day the Germans came into the ghetto for selections for deportation. One time they took all the sick people. Another time they took old people. One time they took children. Each time, my family and I worried that they would be coming for us next.
My family stuck close together. We sang songs, got together with neighbors and friends, talked and convinced ourselves that this would be over one day soon and that we would overcome. Even during those terrible days, Jews were keeping up their religion. We went to Shuls (Synagogues) made up in our houses. We kept up the Jewish rituals and the holidays as best we could. It was difficult, but we held strong to our Jewish faith and traditions at all times.
There was no resistance in the Lodz Ghetto when the Germans took over. It had already been closed up for awhile with very little communication to the outside world. The people had no ammunition and didn’t know how bad it was, nor what was going on outside the ghetto.
One time they came to clear out the patients and liquidate the hospital. They threw all the children and the old people out through the windows and onto the trucks. They threw them like animals, like a piece of sh*t.
One day the Germans came for selection to our section. They selected my mother and father for deportation and left my little brother and I. When they called out my mother, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t let my mother go to her death. I didn’t know what to do.
I followed the wagon transporting my parents. Somehow, my father jumped out of the wagon and hid. My mother was a weaker person. They were taking her to the place where they transported people to take them to their deaths.
I followed the truck. I was stopping and hiding along the way from house to house, until I came to the place where the prisoners were selected for death. I went up to a policeman and said “I have to take my Mother home”. He replied, “Little girl, where are you going? You will be transported just like your mother.” He was a Jewish policeman. Once again, I was lucky, and was able to get my mother released and smuggle her back home, where she soon died.
My 12 year old brother, my father, and I were left in our apartment in the Lodz Ghetto. The Germans returned to take my family again. The Nazis came in and found my brother hiding in some kind of box in the apartment. When they found him, I came out because I didn’t want my brother to be alone as they arrested him. My father also came out too.
I suffered through the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrück, and Muhlhausen concentration camps. I was selected to work, and did various factory and seamstress jobs for the Germans during the war. I was on the brink of dying from typhus. I literally collapsed at the chain link fence at Birkenau, when in a near coma I heard people yelling, “You’re liberated! You’re liberated!” The British had come to save us and close down the concentration camp.
I was taken to a hospital. Upon recovering enough to be transported, I was taken to Sweden to recuperate in a sanitarium. There I met another Lodz survivor, Elias Magnuszewer. Elias had lost his entire family, including a young wife and infant son to the Nazis. We married in 1948. We had a lovely apartment in Malmo, Sweden, where our two daughters, Betty and Nancy were born.
In 1954, we immigrated to the United States, first to Pittsburgh, PA where we had other survivor friends, and then to Detroit, where I had two first cousins who also had survived. There, Elias opened up a grocery store in a Jewish neighborhood on Dexter Avenue. I went to Beauty School and earned my cosmetology license. I began doing women’s hair at home, and later opened a beauty shop on Ten Mile Road and Coolidge in Oak Park.
“Freda’s” was a very popular beauty salon among the Jewish community, for decades. I was a good businesswoman. I also owned part of a deli, bought and sold a pizzeria, earned my real-estate license and worked in a retail store. I enjoyed playing poker for many years, and loved to travel, visiting Israel two times, Europe, Mexico and many U.S. states.
In 1961, Elias was on his way to the Eastern Market to buy produce for his grocery when a semi-trailer truck jackknifed on a wet highway, slammed into his truck and killed him. He was only 44 years old. I persevered, raising my two daughters by myself, and making a comfortable home for us all.
Years later, I traveled to Birkenau with my daughter Nancy. I showed her where they separated my father, brother and I when we arrived. My father and brother went straight to the gas chamber; my little brother had not yet been bar mitzvahed. Following the death of my brother, I loved little boys, in particular, my grandson and great grandson.
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