Magnus, Freda Halpern
Lodz (Poland), Krakow, Auschwitz, Ravensbrück
Freda Halpern was born in 1921 in Lodz, Poland to a middle-class, Orthodox Jewish family. Her father owned two delicatessens. She had three brothers and one sister. They were a very close family and lived a very cosmopolitan, bourgeois life in the large Jewish area of Lodz. She had finished high school and one year of college. She recalled very little anti-semitism before the war.
A few days after the occupation of Lodz by the Germans, her family was ordered, at night, to gather one bag each and walk immediately to the train station. There, they were crammed into cattle cars and sent to Krakow. The journey lasted three terrible days. In Krakow, the Jewish committee set them up in Jewish homes. In the winter of ’39-’40, she smuggled herself in a carriage back to Lodz. She said she had nothing to lose. This was before the ghetto was created. She found her old house available and returned to Krakow to get her family.
They opened the business again until the Germans closed it and began the process of creating the ghetto in the center of town. Each day Germans came for deportations. She remembered the Nazis throwing sick children through windows into the backs of trucks. Once in the ghetto they tried to live a religious life with all the rituals. They had limited information. She did not know of Auschwitz, but she was determined to keep the family together. One day, her parents were taken by wagon to board the train to Auschwitz. Her father jumped out of the wagon and hid. Her mother was ill and could not escape on her own. She secretly followed her mother and paid a police officer to let her go. The bribe worked and she hid her mother until the coast was clear. She then hid her mother in a bed, while she hid in a closet. A few weeks later her mother died in her own bed and was buried normally. She had fallen ill after hiding outside after she was saved.
She saved her father for a few months in the same manner, hiding him under sheets to make it look as if no one was in the bed and keeping the door open. The Nazis never suspected anything. Then came the total liquidation of the ghetto. Her brother, father, and herself all had secret hiding places, but when her brother was found, she gave up herself and her father too. She didn’t want to split up the family. Little did she know that the final destination was Auschwitz.
At Auschwitz, she was immediately separated from her brother and father. She never saw them again. She was selected for labor duty in another camp, but only after many horrifying experiences, including the daily torture of being stripped naked at 4am in a large field to be examined.
She barely survived the war in Ravensbrück. She overcame typhus and starvation. Thousands of Jews and Gypsies died each day. She was near death when the British liberated the camp. She was taken to a Red Cross hospital where she recovered very slowly. Many died in the hospital because their bodies could not digest the food.
Once she recovered, she had no desire to ever return to Poland. She was the only survivor of her family. So she went to Sweden where she met her husband. He too was a survivor from Lodz. They lived for 10 years in Sweden and had two daughters. Eventually, they left Sweden because it lacked a large Jewish community and settled first in Pittsburgh and eventually moved to Detroit because one surviving cousin lived here. Tragically, after five years in the States, her husband was killed in a car accident. She raised her children alone and went to beauty school where upon graduation she opened her own shop. She faithfully operated the store for twenty years.
Interviewer: Arthur Kirsch
Format: Audio recording