Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: "Forget You Not"™

Auschwitz Camp

Holocaust survivor keeps stories alive.
Woman was sent to
Auschwitz at 5 years old.
(She was featured in book by local author.)

Staff writer of The Holland Sentinel
(October 19, 2002)


Sometimes, Tova Friedman meets someone who believes the Holocaust never happened.

That's when she shows them her tattoo on her arm, "A27633," a mark she was branded with as a 5-year-old girl at Auschwitz. Four million perished at the German concentration camp.

"They told me I no longer had a name," said Friedman, who told her experiences as a Holocaust survivor to honors and political science students Friday at Grand Valley State University.

"Some people told me I should have got rid of the tattoo," she said. "I respond by saying that it was nothing I did. The world should be ashamed, not me.

"Sometimes you are going to meet people who say the Holocaust didn't happen," she told the students. "That's why it's so important for me to talk. Most of them didn't make it. By telling you my story, I also tell you their stories. I just don't want them to be forgotten."

Friedman is director of Jewish Family Services in Highland Park, N.J. She was in West Michigan this week taking part in a PBS documentary on the Holocaust by GVSU station Channel 35. It will air in about 18 months.

Her experiences were published in the book "Kinderlager: An Oral History of Young Holocaust Survivors." Holland resident Milton Nieuwsma wrote the book in 1998 and attended her lecture.

"Her life is such an inspiration," Nieuwsma said. "The courage that she and her mother exhibited is amazing. The message Tova conveys today is one of tolerance."

Although 64, she dates her birthday to Jan. 27, 1945, the day the Russian army liberated her from Auschwitz.

Students listened intently as she described how she was transported to Auschwitz for three days in a cattle car by train without food, water or any privacy for people to relieve themselves. She and her mother were separated from her father on the way to Auschwitz. She told how all the prisoners were stripped and had to walk naked by the Nazis to see if they were healthy.

"Some people didn't pass inspection," she said. "They were shot or taken to the crematorium. We smelled the smoke and the burning flesh."

All the inmates had all their body hair shaved off. She had long braids.

"Hunger was unbearable," she said. "All I thought about was food. I forgot about my mother and father. I forgot I belonged to anybody."

Afterward, several students said they were both horrified by the atrocities and inspired by Friedman's courage.

"It was very heart-wrenching, but very inspirational at the same time," said Brett Billedeau, 20. 

"I think it's amazing she portrayed it so well," said Jeri McGhee, 21. "It's inspirational to us that something so tragic can be expressed and not held back. She wants everyone to know about it."

Shortly before liberation, Friedman and a group of other children were taken to the crematorium to be put to death.

"I wasn't worried," she said. "I thought because you were born Jewish, it was some sort of crime. We're Jewish and we have to die. That's just the way it is."

The children were given orange towels to wrap themselves in after they were told to remove their clothes.

"I remember standing and utterly freezing standing in the towel," she said.

Then after some confusion, the soldiers returned the children to camp. She doesn't know if there was a malfunction in the equipment or if they weren't the proper group to be executed that day. The Germans kept meticulous records and did everything according to orders.

"I consider it a complete and utter miracle," she said. "The miracle is I came back."