David P. Boder Interviews Henja Frydman; August 7, 1946; Paris, France



Henja Frydman was born in Pinsk, then part of Poland and now in Belarus, in 1924. She was one of six children, and had three brothers and two sisters. In 1931, she emigrated to Paris with her family. Like other eastern European Jews who emigrated to the French capital during the inter-war period, they were seeking better economic opportunities and to escape from anti-Semitism. Henja’s father worked in the clothing business, a vocation engaged in by many Jews at that time. Prior to the defeat of France by Nazi Germany in June, 1940, Henja was a student, especially interested in literature. The German occupation shattered her life and that of her family, as it did for so many other French Jews.

One of her brothers was arrested in the summer of 1941, interned in the Drancy detention camp and then deported to Auschwitz where he perished of typhus, a common killer. Henja herself joined the communist element of the French resistance and worked in its propaganda section. She had to live separately from her beloved parents and brother due to her clandestine work. The separation pained her deeply.

In 1943, Henja was arrested and sent to Drancy where she remained for three months; her interview provides information on conditions there. In June 1943, along with others from her resistance group, she was deported to Auschwitz. Her parents and brother were deported there four months later and perished. Henja recalled the tortuous train journey to Auschwitz and the harrowing, indescribable year she spent in the camp. Her account of her first day in this hell on earth is especially graphic and heart-rending. Henja’s survival in Auschwitz is due to her strong mental attitude which was bolstered by her ideological convictions, to the solidarity she maintained with her fellow female prisoners, to the friendship of the legendary Mala Zimetbaum, and to luck.

Since Henja was working as nurse in the so-called Auschwitz hospital, she was not evacuated in the death march of 58,000 Auschwitz prisoners on January 18, 1945, and was liberated by the Red Army on January 27, 1945 along with 7,500 other prisoners. She made her way back to Paris where she worked in an administrative capacity for a survivors’ organization. Though she had two sisters and a brother who were living in Palestine and a relative in the United States, she planned to remain in France. Boder interviewed Henja in a facility for displaced persons in Paris and recorded a lengthy, moving and illuminating interview.

—Elliot Lefkovitz