Research

Freund (Ashendorf), Teddy (Tovia)

Child Survivor
Korolivka, Borshchiv, Poland (Western Ukraine); Chernovitz, Romania; Kharkov, Ukraine; Kopyczynce, Ukraine; Dolnośląskie, Poland; Steyr, Wegscheid, Ebelsberg, Austria

Teddy Freund, a child survivor of the Holocaust, understood the importance of life and the will and endurance to overcome the daily dangers of being pursued. However, until now, he has been unable to express himself. “For the last 79 years, I kept my history to myself because I felt that my life experience is so unique, it’s so traumatic that I can hardly believe it myself how I managed to survive and succeed. If I cannot believe it, how would anybody else believe it? So if I couldn’t believe it, why would I want to bother putting all this story on paper? Fortunately, I had a friend, Jackie Gill, who encouraged me to do this interview and put it on paper for future generations to read and maybe give them hope for their future; that there is hope for them too. And I hope that this true story is believable enough for other people to learn from it.”

“Suppose you lived in a very small town in Korolivka, and a voice came from heaven ordering all the Jewish families to gather in the Town Square. This voice declares that shortly a great catastrophe would befall them, and that they would all shortly perish, all would be destroyed except for one survivor, spared to bear witness to that destruction. Whom would you pick? The Rabbi, a scholar, a businessman, or a leader of the community? Or the Rabbi’s son who is intellectual and learned and schooled in prayers and all religious commandments, dressed in black, with yarmulke, and strings hanging from his pants? The town drunk? Or some raunchy looking kid, short, with missing teeth and pimples, undernourished, wearing baggy pants held up by a rope belt – the balagula’s [wagon driver’s] grandson?” This is his true life story:

Teddy Freund was born on May 28, 1935 as Tovia Ashendorf. He lived with his parents, Joshua and Tova Ashendorf, and a brother Alex, who was ten years older, in Korolivka Village in the valley below the City of Korolivka, Poland. His father supported the family by taking his threshing machine to different farmers, to thresh their wheat or barley. Then they lived in an apartment in the City of Korolivka, until the Russians occupied it in 1939. From there they moved to his father’s hometown, a bigger town with a considerable Jewish population, “and stayed there until the new war in 1941 when the Nazis started attacking Poland and Ukraine.”

“Since my father no longer had a job, he decided we were going to move back to the Village of Korolivka where my mother’s parents were living. We lived with my grandparents in a four room, mud house with a straw roof, next to a little creek and below a hill that was farmed with fruit trees.  The parlor room had a wooden stove, a pripetshik, in the middle and it had an oven where my grandmother baked bread. When it was winter and very cold, being so small, I would crawl into the space right above the oven to keep warm so I wouldn’t freeze. Alex would go to the nearby forest and chop down some wood that was wet and would smoke up the whole place…. We had a garden outside where my grandmother planted all kinds of stuff and we had a cow, a goat, and chickens that would lay eggs. That’s what we lived on.”

“By the time I was born, my grandfather was no longer a balagula [wagon driver] with a horse and buggy that he used to move people from place to place or from town to town…. He was a very kind man. He seemed to love me and I loved him and he would put me on his knee and tell me stories about his past experiences. Sometimes, driving his wagon from village to village, he would be surrounded by shkotzim [gentiles], as he would refer to them. When they threatened him, he would whip them left and right until they would run for their lives. Whether it was true or not I don’t know, but I was really impressed by him.”

“It wasn’t long after the Nazis occupied our town, that they start passing decrees against Jews, where you have to go down to the police and register. And then they ordered all young Jews to come to the police; they said they were going to put them to work someplace. So all the young men went there and they never came back. In addition, all the Jewish leaders were assembled and nobody ever saw them again. Then  they started having pogroms against the Jews. We had maybe a few hundred or a thousand Jews…. There were two roads between the village and the city: one major road where they would drive up to the city in their horses and buggies; and then on the side going down the hill, they had another pathway. I remember when they started the pogroms, some young Jew was running down that hillside and screaming, ‘They are killing Jews! They are killing Jews!’ My parents, my brother, and I ran into the nearby forest to hide until we felt it was safe enough to come back.”

“Soon, they ordered all the Jews to pack up, carry their belongings, and start marching to Borshchiv, a major city not far away from Korolivka, where they gathered all the Jews in the ghetto. Besides us, there were about two other families all living in the same house. The place was infested; everybody had typhoid fever and people were dying all over the place. I had the typhoid infection and a high fever; but somehow my mother kept me alive and I survived…. My grandparents also moved to Borshchiv, but they lived someplace else, and they soon died of a natural death and everybody thought it was a blessing.”

“In the back of our house in Borshchiv, we had a storage place and my dad dug down and made like a basement under the ground – a bunker – so that in case there was a pogrom, we would all run into the bunker for shelter. During the pogrom, they would go from door to door looking for Jews;  and when they found Jews, they ordered them to either go to the cemetery or they would shoot them right then if they refused to go….  My dad was ordered to go to some kind of railroad station. They said they were going to take him to work – to  labor duty. He left and I never saw him again…. After he was gone, we hid in that concealed bunker and we could hear the Nazi police and the kapos, Jewish boys that worked with the police and would come into the houses and scream, ‘We see you! We see you! Come out! Come out!’ We would hear them above in the house and we were dead silent and just stayed there as long as we could until the whole thing passed – about a day. The following day, things would sort of get back to normal – not real normal, but back to normal. We lived in that house until the end of 1943, and on the last day there, they had two or three pogroms. Somehow we survived hiding in that bunker through each pogrom…. There was a rumor that this time it was going to be the final pogrom and they were going to have what they called Judenfrei. Before, the pogroms just killed Jews at random; but after, no matter what, every Jew would be exterminated.”

“My mother thought that we would be safer if we went back to the Village of Korolivka. So very early one morning, we got all of our belongings – we didn’t have very much – and we walked through the fields so that we wouldn’t be noticed and attacked by the local hooligans or by the fascist police. It was snow outside, it was cold, and it took us about a day to get to Korolivka Village. My mother knew some farmers, so we hid in one of their barns. When spring came along, the farmers were scared because the fascist police threatened them if they hid Jews, they would punish or kill them. So the farmer finally made us move out of his barn. And from then on, we hid in the backs of the barns or in the fields of the village. My mother would go to the farmers and forage or beg for some food for me and my brother. We were just fortunate enough not to be picked up by the local fascist police and also fortunate that the local people must have felt pity on us. And all during the summer, somehow we all survived, my brother, and I, and my mother.”

“But then when it came to fall, it was harder to find places to hide. So my mother met another Jewish lady who survived somehow with her son Srulke [Yisroel, Israel] and her daughter. They both decided that maybe the safest place for them to hide was at the end of the village road in a forest during the day, and at night they would go out and forage food from the farmers that they knew…. When it was no longer safe to stay there, they decided to move above the valley to a plateau that had little clusters of trees, where we would hide for the day. But when we moved to that cluster of trees, the shkotzim that were grazing their cows must have noticed us and told the Nazi police where we were hiding and they came and found us. At that time, my brother and Srulke were not there because they were foraging for some food…. All of a sudden out of nowhere, like a nightmare, I saw the Nazi police with their guns and all I can remember is my mother yelling in Yiddish, ‘Tovia, run, run!’ And I started running down the mountain. And I even remember the shots because they shot my mother; they shot the other lady; they shot her daughter; and they must have been shooting after me too.  And I just kept running, and running, and running, until I got into  a cornfield, and was able to hide there for a day or so. At nighttime, I would knock at the farmers’ doors and they would be nice enough to let me in and give me something to eat. I remember one lady telling me that I ran so fast that the stones were running after me.”

“Later that night, I met my brother. He felt it was very dangerous now that the Nazi police knew there were some Jews still around. We heard that there were some Jews hiding in the forest, away from the village, and somehow they formed a self-defense protection from the local goyim who were attacking Jews. We felt it was safer for us to be there than to be in the village, so we just walked into that forest and searched for that band of Jews until we found them. They set up a little camp; some of them would stay watch in case they saw any danger coming. My brother would go to the village to forage for food from the villagers and we stayed there for about a week or so. All of a sudden, one morning, we heard shooting. And panic amongst everybody there, a lot of panic; shooting and panic. And again my brother said to me in Yiddish, ‘Loif [run] Tovia, loif.’ I was running again and my brother was shot while he was running next to me because he was big and an easier target. I managed to miss all the bullets and kept running and running…. Finally, I must have run out of energy, and was hiding and waiting until it got dark. I decided to go back to the camp and found out that most of the Jews there were shot by the fascist police. The ones that ran away and survived came back to the camp, knowing that this is the end for that place. One of the men said to me, ‘You can’t stay here any longer, you are going to die here, it’s not safe. Go back to the village. You may have a better chance.’ Well I didn’t know what to do so I went back to the village.”

“The villagers felt pity on me and I would hide in the back of the barns; I would dig in the big bales of straw and hide in there during the day. And when it got dark, I crawled out of the hole and I would randomly walk down to different houses and knock at the door and ask if they would give me something to eat. Most of them would give me something to eat, but none of them would let me stay there long enough because they didn’t want a Jew being killed on their property. And it was getting to be fall; it was getting cold, wintery cold. And I survived like that into the winter, hiding in the straw and at night going out and  begging for something to eat.”

“And then I met Srulke again and he decided that we should hide together in the attic of an empty house at the end of the village because it was cold outside and I was dressed in rags. I hadn’t had a bath or shower for months, and my whole body was full of sores from lice that get into your head, into your hair, and under your skin. And we would go out at night again to forage for food from the farmers. Occasionally I would find a farmer chasing me away, but most of them felt sorry for me.”

 “We were still hiding in the house when we heard that the Russians were advancing and the Germans were retreating; and if we would get lucky, we would be liberated. I was by myself in the attic and heard a lot of commotion outside, some shooting. Some German soldiers came into the house to search it and one of the soldiers looked into the attic to see what was going on. As I saw him, I hid behind the chimney, away from the door, so I couldn’t be seen. I was so small that I could hide anyplace. He looked around, obviously he didn’t see me. And then the soldiers left. I stayed there for a while until the shooting ended…. And then the Russians came into town; so one night, I crawled out and I walked over to one of the houses not far away and I saw Russian soldiers. I thought that if I told them I was a Jew maybe they are going to help me. But they weren’t very happy about it. They chased me away. I stayed in the attic for another few days until the Russians completely advanced and it felt safe.”

“Not far away from that house, there was a farmer lady who was a widow and she had three adult sons and a daughter who was dying of tuberculosis. One of her sons was hiding a Jewish woman that he fell in love with. Around April 1944, I went to that lady – they were Ukrainians but somehow they had a Polish name – and she gave me some food. She felt pity on me and said, ‘I want you to come live with us,’ so she took me in. The first thing she did was to take me outside and put me in a big washtub. She washed out all the lice that I had and all the dirt that I had from months and months and months and months. And somehow she got me some clothes – they were oversized – and she put some salve all over my body and it killed all the lice and healed all of my sores. I stayed with them and my job was to take care of the cows; I worked with the pigs; I picked up the eggs that the chickens would lay randomly all over the place; and I took the horses to drink from the river…. Srulke survived too and was taken in by a farmer who had no children. Srulke was a strong, big fellow, so he was a big asset to them and could take care of the whole farm…. Srulke and the two younger sons of the widow I lived with occasionally would go out at nighttime to rob the farmers and come back with some kind of booty. One night the younger son and Srulke went out and the local farmers or the local police must have gotten wise to them because they never came back again.”

“The Jews who survived in the local small communities all moved to Borshchiv. I had some kind of distant relative living there and they passed the word around that there’s a small, young Jew living in Korolivka and maybe they should come and take him. So one day, they took me to Borshchiv where I met the relative; he was a young man who survived all the pogroms and the Holocaust. And it was in the summer of 1944. At the end of the year, he heard a rumor that in Chernovitz, Romania, the Jews were getting a boat to go to Israel. He decided to take me along and we hitchhiked with Russian soldiers on their trucks. On the way, we stopped in a big city, Kharkov, and stayed overnight with a Jewish family who also survived; they lived in an apartment and had a daughter about my age. In the morning, we left and hitchhiked a ride to Chernovitz, but by the time we got there, the boat had left already. My cousin did not know what to do with me, so we decided to go back to Borshchiv where he was originally from. On the way back, we stayed over in Kharkov again.”

“Early in the morning when I got up, I could hear noises from different trains. I never saw a train before, so I was curious to know what it was all about and I went across to the railroad station to see the trains. I must have looked very shabby because I was noticed by the train guards, who  took me to a nearby police station. The following day, they put me on a train and sent me to an orphanage in Kopyczynce. Kopyczynce at one time was a town that had maybe five to ten thousand Jews. And out of all the Jews, maybe 100-150 Jews survived. Most of them survived because they ran away with the Russians or they hid in the woods.”

“Jacob and Regina Freund lived in Kopyczynce before the war and after the war they came back because that’s where their family was, only to find out that their whole family was destroyed.  They had immigrated to Russia before the war started because Mr. Freund, as a young man, was considered a sympathizer with the communists. He considered himself a communist. And when Russia occupied that part of Poland, which was the West Ukraine, he knew that the Nazis would come, even though he did not know about the Holocaust, and, being known as a communist, he would be executed…. In order to make a living, once a week or so, there was a flea market, where the farmers would bring their food from the villages nearby and spread them out on the table and everybody else who had something to sell would bring them over there and spread them out on the tables and sell to the people that would come to these markets.”

“In the orphanage, I was the only Jew. They would hardly feed us. The soup was watery and we would get a couple of slices of heavy cornbread. We didn’t get much meat of any sort. I never got enough food. I was always hungry. So during the day I would do what I did before in the village of Korolivka. I would go to nearby houses and I would knock and ask them if I could get some bread from them, something to eat. And then one day, one of the bigger kids said to me ‘Come with me to the market, please. I saw some lady who looks like a Jew. And maybe we can get some food from her.’ Now these kids from the orphanage, they would go to the market all the time and they would steal food, obviously they did not have any money, and they would bring it back to the orphanage. So they took me along to the market place and then he pointed her out to me, ‘See this lady, she’s a Jew. Why don’t you go up to her and ask her to give you some food.’ So I did. I walked up to that lady – Mrs. Freund – and I gave her my name and told her that I was Jewish and asked her if she could give me some kind of food. I was hungry. She took me over to her apartment right away and fed me, I met her husband, and I told them about my experience and where I was from. I told them I am staying at the orphanage. So they told me that I should go back for right now to the orphanage, but they will be there the next day to pick me up and I will be staying with them from there on. The orphanage agreed and was glad to get rid of me. I was the only Jew and they didn’t know what to do with me.”
 
“I started living with the Freunds and they told me that from now on they wanted to be my father and mother and not to use my name any more, Ashendorf; I started using my name Freund. They never had any kids so they wanted it to be known that I was their only son. And I refer to them as mother and father because they were the only parents I really knew. Regina Freund was a very good cook and in order to make a few dollars, she made a little apartment into like a restaurant. Many of the survivors, most of whom, were single people, would come over there and eat. And one day, this traveling guy came with a couple of suitcases of merchandise, and he said to my mother, ‘Why do you have to have a restaurant and work so hard, why don’t you take my merchandise on a market day, and spread it out on the table there. I will tell you how much I want and whatever I tell you, you double the price.’ So what did she have to lose. I went with her to the market because her husband didn’t feel safe after he came back from Russia. So on market day we would take all the merchandise and spread it all out. And there was a shortage of everything – needles, threads and everything else that farm ladies needed to keep their clothes in shape. So instead of just doubling the price, Mrs. Freund kept increasing the price and at the end of the day she made so much money on these two suitcases of merchandise – more rubles than they saw in all the years they were in Russia. All of a sudden, my mother and I became business tycoons. Even though my father stayed away, he was afraid that the Russian police would notice him and would accuse him of black marketeering. One day, the city officials did come and they arrested my dad and they accused him of black marketeering. So my parents had to hire somebody and pay everybody off to let my dad out of jail. As soon as we came out of jail, my dad found out that a lot of Jews from that area are smuggling across the border to Poland and from Poland they go to Israel. And so he said, ‘A plague on the whole bunch of them; we have to get out of this cursed land.’

“So one night, we took whatever we could carry, and we got on the train to Poland and finally we got to Dolnośląskie, Poland which was not far from the Czechoslovakian border. Somehow the Polish government was providing living places for new immigrants that were Polish citizens from the Ukraine. So they gave us a house and we lived there for a few months until the Haganah came and told us they were organizing the Jews from Poland to go to Austria where they had displaced persons camps and could get us from there to Israel, to America.”

“So again, we took all our belongings and took the train to Austria, where they put us in a D.P. camp, where we felt much safer. We were under the auspices of the American government and the Joint Distribution Committee that fed us and took care of us and provided us with everything. They moved us from camp to camp – from Steyr to Wegscheid to Ebelsberg. We stayed until we applied for visas to go to the United States and whatever family we had there intervened on our behalf to get immigration passports and to make a life for ourselves here. Finally in 1951, we got our visas approved, and they sent us on a train to Germany where an army boat was waiting for us to take us to the United States.”

“The Joint made provisions for us to come to Detroit, where we arrived on May 5th, 1951. We stayed with a few families until they found us a house on 12th Street above a jewelry store. Within six months, my dad, who was a diabetic and smoked a great deal, died from lung cancer; he was only 51 years old. Losing her husband was a very big shock to my mother, and two months later she dropped dead from a heart attack. So within one year I became an orphan again.”

“Jewish Family Service set me up with a religious family named Grossman, to stay with them until I would graduate high school and be able to get a job. I was lucky because they made me two years younger on my papers, so I was able to go back to school and get my education to become an electrician. Once I graduated from high school, the Jewish Family Service told me I have to go get a job, they could no longer take care of me. Actually my first job was delivering things on a bicycle for grocery stores. Then I had a job at a market on Warren Avenue and Livernois; I got $0.50 an hour, $7.00 a day to carry the groceries to their cars. As soon as I graduated from high school, I was able to get a job as an electrical helper, an apprentice. They started me at $1.00 an hour and that was a big improvement. So out of the dollar an hour, I had to pay them $100 a month to the Grossmans for a bedroom upstairs, food, and cleaning my clothes. And my job was to take care of the grass outside and to help out with everything.  I lived with them for about ten years. They were nice to me, but I was always treated as a boarder, never as their own…. I moved out on my own. I got my license as an electrician. And after a while I got a master license for electricians. I started out working for other people but somehow that never lasted long enough, so I went into business for myself.”

“I was in very bad shape in many respects. I had problems with my speech and had to go to a speech therapist. I had lost many of my teeth, still in Europe, so I went to the dentist and had them fix me up with dentures. I started grooming myself better and I improved my speech, but I could never get rid of my accent. Also I had pimples all over my face, and had to get them all fixed up. I took dance lessons from Arthur Murray’s Dance Studio  and I bought my first car, a ‘48 Kaiser for $33. I knew nothing about cars and I had no money to take it to a mechanic, so I went to the Detroit Public Library and looked up the pictures of cars and engines. After tinkering around for a couple of weeks, I finally fixed the car so it would run. And I jumped in the car and drove around the block. I could only make right-hand turns. I didn’t know how to make left turns. The more I drove around, the more secure I got from driving it. Finally I learned how to make left turns too…. Eventually, I met my ex-wife, Alice Finkelstein, at a Jewish Center singles dance. We started dating, got married, had three kids – Jay, Tammie, and Adam, and divorced in 1985.”

While Teddy acknowledges the many coincidences that led him to the United States with the Freunds, he survived “in spite of all my shortcomings. I was always a determined young man and I was not going to let anything keep me down. So I would remake myself – my speech and my teeth, whatever I needed to do. I just had to remake myself all the time, which was part of my nature which saved me from the Nazis too.  Even as a child, I constantly had to remake myself in order to survive. And the United States was not any different to me. Every day was a survival for me. Every day I had to remake myself in order to survive…. All my life, I could never allow myself to  get attached to people. And while I had a lot of acquaintances, I really didn’t succeed in making any close friends. It always seemed to me to be a challenge, a survival challenge, me against them…. In 2010, I had an auto accident on the expressway that resulted in congestive heart failure surgery. Fortunately, I was strong enough to survive the surgery, but I am suffering from it until this day.”

Teddy shares the message that “Everything is possible in life. And whatever it is, you have got to survive every day. You can’t give up. And if I could survive and if I could succeed, there’s no reason why young people today could not do as well as I did or close to it. This is the greatest land of opportunities. A little guy like me who had never had any opportunities in another land, in another place, in spite of my shortcomings that I suffered in a number of reasons, also physically being short worked against me. So in spite of that I did succeed. As an electrician, not 100%; to a great degree I sold real estate to provide for my family, and raise three kids, and get them educated. I am very grateful to this country for the opportunities that it gave me. As well as my own inner strength and my constant fight to survive. In spite of all the obstacles that I encountered on my way, I survived and made the most of them and didn’t let them pull me down….  I hope some young people are going to see this testimony and maybe it’s going to encourage them and give them hope. There’s hope for everybody in spite of whatever shortcomings they may suffer.” 

Date of Interview: March 25, 2015
Length of Interview: 2 hours 4 minutes
Interview & Synopsis by: Zieva Konvisser
Videographer: Fred Safran