A ninety-two-year-old former lawyer asked octogenarian Tova Friedman, “have you ever heard of Auschwitz?” while uncovering a tattoo on his forearm. Whereupon she rolled up her left sleeve, revealing A27633 – and together they wept as they shared stories of their losses and triumphs.
In a powerfully written book, THE DAUGHTER OF AUSCHWITZ (Hanover Square Press 2022), Tova Friedman recounts firsthand experiences of how she struggled to survive the most heinous crime of history, the Holocaust. She chronicles her story of survival, under the direst of circumstances, beginning with the Nazi invasion of Poland until her liberation from Auschwitz.
Born in Tomaszów Mazowiecki, Poland, Tova was two years old when the Nazis crammed all Jews into the confines of a four-block area known as the Jewish ghetto. Hitler’s plan, in addition to dominating the world under his authoritarian rule, included identifying, dehumanizing, exploiting, and murdering every Jew, that he derisively referred to as untermenchen, translated into German as ‘subhuman.’
Despite the horrendous circumstances into which Tova was born and grew up, she still believed in a G-d who taught humankind the difference between good and evil and bestowed upon us free will. She added, “one of the consequences of free will is that humans can choose to follow a dark path.” Unfortunately much of her story confirms her conclusion, but her resilience and sense of justice enabled her to cling to the belief that a single candle can bring light to the darkest corners of our world.
Tova points out that the conception Jews went to their slaughter like sheep is a common misconception. Although overwhelmed by the barbaric Gestapo, uprisings sprang up in a hundred Jewish ghettos. Ironically, the Wehrmacht, the formidable German war machine, suffered defeat in part because it diverted resources necessary to win the war, due to its obsession to make the world Judenrein – free of Jews. Although the accounts of Nazi sadism and perverse cruelties made the book difficult to read, it would be doing a disservice to ignore or gloss over the atrocities the victims and survivors suffered at the hands of the Nazis and their all too willing European accomplices.
Tova said that it was common for survivors to feel guilty for having escaped death when their family and friends perished. Those who escaped the starvation, torture, forced marches, shootings, gas chambers, and ovens of Auschwitz hid their tattoos in shame, because ironically, they felt guilty for having survived. But in recent years, Tova and her fellow survivors have emerged from the shadows to reveal their tattooed arms cautioning us against participating in a complicity of silence in the face of evil.
Despite having lost 150 members of her family and scores of childhood friends, Tova learned that the weapons of war are not only bullets and bombs, but they also exist as resistance, resilience, grit, hope and the indomitable will to survive. But Tova put into practice her belief that survival is not enough, one must learn to live again if only to teach future generations the lessons of the Holocaust. The watchword “Never Again” should be more than a catchphrase; it must serve as a promise fulfilled, for the sake of our children and the future generations to follow.