Henry Friedman lived through unspeakable suffering — and yet he speaks. He is a Holocaust survivor. Some of his memories stretch the limits of human endurance.
His answer to evil is hope. That’s why he tells what happened to his family 70 years ago. He tells his story again and again.
“What I try to leave students with is not just the blood and gore,” the 83-year-old Friedman said Monday. “When they leave, I want them to know life is precious.”
Friedman, who lives on Mercer Island, is one of four people who will speak as part of Everett Community’s College’s Holocaust Survivor Forums. The free sessions begin today when Everett’s George Beykovsky speaks at 12:20 p.m. in room 120 of EvCC’s Baker Hall. Around the world, Thursday is Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Beykovsky, interviewed for this column in 2010, was 8 years old in 1939 when his family escaped the coming terrors of the Nazis by fleeing the Czek province of Slovakia. His father took the family to Ecuador. His grandmother, who stayed in Europe, died in the Holocaust.
This will be the 13th year that Holocaust survivors will talk to students and others as part of an EvCC humanities class, “Surviving the Holocaust.” Joyce Walker, a humanities instructor at the college, arranges speakers through the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center in Seattle.
Ilana Cone Kennedy, the resource center’s director of education, said Friedman was one of a group of Holocaust survivors who worked to start the nonprofit organization in 1989.
“I tell my personal story to hundreds of students. I don’t reach everyone, but if I reach just one I am doing something,” Friedman said.
It’s a harrowing story that begins in 1941 with the Nazi invasion of Brody, Poland, where Friedman was born. It’s now part of independent Ukraine. Jewish people were soon forced to wear armbands showing the Star of David. They weren’t allowed to attend school or be teachers.
In 1942, a young Ukrainian woman, Julia Symchuck, warned Henry’s father that the Gestapo was coming for him. Thousands of Jews were rounded up and sent to work camps or to the Belzek death camp. Others were moved into a ghetto in Brody. The family later learned that most of the Jews in the ghetto were eventually sent to a death camp.
For 18 months, Henry Friedman, his mother, his younger brother and a female Jewish teacher were allowed to hide in a barn owned by Symchuck’s family in the village of Suchowola. A half-mile away, his father found a tiny hiding place with another acquaintance.
In 1992, Friedman revealed the worst of what happened to an audience at Shorewood High School. His talk was covered in a Seattle Times article. He told students his mother was pregnant when they went into hiding.
“I have told you we couldn’t speak in loud voices. As it came closer to the birth, a decision had to be made, what to do with the baby,” Friedman was quoted as saying in the 1992 article. “I had a vote. Do I live, or do I let a baby live that is just being born and is going to endanger my life?”
Friedman said Monday he still tells students what happened. After the baby girl was born, he and his brother were told to turn their heads. The teacher suffocated the infant because they knew they couldn’t stop a baby’s crying.
“I was 14 years old. I had a vote,” Friedman said Monday. “That pain, 70 years later — I still feel guilty.”
Their nightmare ended in 1944 when the Russians liberated the village of Suchowola. When they returned to Brody, they learned they were the only Jewish family that survived, out of thousands who had lived in the city.
Friedman moved to Seattle in 1949. “After the war, I was kind of numb,” he said. Within a year had been drafted by the U.S. Army. He served in the Korean War before raising a family.
In 1987, Friedman traveled to Russia and found Julia Symchuck. The Ukrainian woman visited him in Seattle. She was also honored in Israel for helping to save the Jewish family. The teacher who had hidden with them lost her whole family in the Holocaust. She moved to Israel, married, had a daughter and grandchildren.
Friedman has grown children, grandchildren and now a great-grandson.
When his children began asking about his past, he said, “I couldn’t talk about it.” Instead, he talked to a tape recorder. That grew into a book. The title is “I’m No Hero.”
He is a hero. Friedman keeps telling his horrendously painful story.
“Young people are so full of questions,” he said. “I tell them never to give up, and not to give in to hate.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Four people will speak at Everett Community College’s Holocaust Survivor Forums starting today.
Free and open to the public, the talks are 12:20 to 1:50 p.m. on campus, 2000 Tower St.
Today: George Beykovsky’s family fled to South America to escape the Nazi danger. Relatives in Slovakia were murdered. Baker Hall, room 120.
May 2: Robert Herschkowitz’s childhood odyssey took him from Belgium to a French concentration camp, then over the Alps by foot to Switzerland. Baker Hall, room 120.
May 16: Henry Friedman was a teen in Poland when his family was helped by Ukrainian friends to hide from the Nazis. Whitehorse Hall, room 105.
May 30: Frieda Soury, whose father was Jewish, was taken from family at 14 and sent to Theresienstadt concentration camp in her native Czechoslovakia. Whitehorse Hall, room 105.
For more information, call 425-388-9411 or email HumanitiesCenter@ everettcc.edu.
Everett’s Temple Beth Or will present a Holocaust Remembrance Day event at 7 tonight at 3215 Lombard Ave.
Holocaust survivor Fred Taucher will read from “Saved by the Enemy,” a book that tells of his family’s plight. For more information, call 425-259-7125.