Irena Erlich

"Remember the lessons of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the great examples of heroism that it showed us."

Name at birth
Rachela Fryzerman
Date of birth
Where were you born?
Where did you grow up?
Lodz, Poland
Name of father, occupation
Adolf Fryzerman, medical field (felcher)
Maiden name of mother, occupation
Malka Leah Gelberg, Homemaker
Immediate family (names, birth order)
Parents, Perla, Moniek, Boris, Zelman, and I
How many in entire extended family?
Who survived the Holocaust?
Perla, Boris, and I
On September 1, 1939, I was 16 years old and getting ready to go back to school.  Our home was very apolitical and we were unaware of what was happening with the Germans.  They came to 
Lodz first because there was such a large population of Volksdeutch (German nationals) there.  

The Germans came in and started taking the Jews to do manual labor in the city to prepare for the impending ghetto.  I was sent to work in a factory that made wooden shoes.  I was responsible for taking the finished shoes from the factory to the warehouse.  There were about 100 of us working there.

In 1940 we were sent to the ghetto.  The living conditions were more than tragic.  In May, the ghetto was enclosed and the conditions became even worse.  Many of us were sent to work in factories, others were sent to the work camps.

My family and I were all living in one room.  We received very little food, had no hot water and the hunger we incurred was the most difficult part of our life.  I was sent to work in a factory, and we received a small ration of very watered-down soup each day.  

A man who worked with me was so happy one day.  When we asked why he said that there was a small piece of potato in his soup.  Everyone was always hungry.  There was rampant disease, lice and typhus.  I contracted typhus and was hospitalized.  

There were accusations of stealing in the ghetto.  When the accused was found out, he was hung in the main square and everyone was required to attend the hanging.  

People were lying dead in the streets and nobody paid attention.  If a family member died at home, their body was hidden until after receipt of the next rations so that the living members could receive a bit more food for that week.  Hunger forced people to act like animals.

I lived and worked in the Lodz Ghetto for four years until the Russians came to Wroclaw (Breslau), then we were evacuated to Birkenau on foot without shoes, just with a blanket.  They waited to close the factory until the machinery that we had built had arrived in Czechoslovakia, otherwise we too would have been slaughtered.

My sister Perla and brother Moniek were in Warsaw living on false identity papers.  Moniek was trying to get papers to go to Chile.  He was captured and killed.  Perla survived through her ingenuity.  Boris was in Russia.  My brother Zelman, my parents, and I were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  

After arrival at Auschwitz, the men and women were separated.  I never saw my father and brother again.  My mother and I were sent to the women’s camp.  After we went to the shower, we received a rag to wear. This was toward the end of the war and we were not tattooed with our numbers.   I was then sent to the Sportschule work camp near Dzierzoniow, Poland.  

I worked in this camp for about a year.  The Germans beat us terribly.  We were all bruised.  There was a visit by the notorious Mengele.  He asked the commandant what had happened to so many of us who were bruised.  He was told that we were just clumsy and fell out of our bunks.  The Russians liberated us soon after Mengele’s visit.

After the war, I went back to Lodz to my previous home.  There was another family living in our house, so I didn’t take it back.  I had registered with the Jewish Agency and my sister who was in Warsaw found me.  She helped me get to Świdnica where we had family friends.  I worked in their store for a while and then with children at a kindergarten.  I met my husband there and we were married.

Name of Ghetto(s)
Name of Concentration / Labor Camp(s)
Where did you go after being liberated?
Back to Lodz to look for my family
When did you come to the United States?
Where did you settle?
Detroit, Michigan
How is it that you came to Michigan?
We had friends, Anna and Albert Fein, Fajga Wancjer, and Martin Wancjer that moved here from Poland the previous years.
Occupation after the war
Factory worker
When and where were you married?
1951 in Świdnica, Poland
Shloma (Simon) Erlich, Tailor
What do you think helped you to survive?
The knowledge that I will see my family again.
What message would you like to leave for future generations?
Remember the lessons of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and the great examples of heroism that it showed us.

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