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

  • David Boder: August 7, 1946, Paris. On Rue de Patin, a home for adult displaced people. Interviewee is Miss Henja Frydman, 23 years old, tattoo number 46603 and a triangle. She has some kind of administrative position, as secretary in some office, in part an elective post. She was elected by the deportees themselves. She will tell us her story in German. [She subsequently changes to Yiddish.]
  • David Boder: [In German] Miss Frydman, tell us again your full name. How old are you, and where are you from, and so on?
  • Henja Frydman: My name is Frydman, Henja. I was born...in '24. My parents are Russian. I was arrested...
  • David Boder: [interrupting] Miss Frydman, what was the occupation of your parents? How many were there in your family?
  • Henja Frydman: We were a family of five people. Two brothers, I, and my parents.Henja is referring here to her family who lived in Paris. Subsequently, she reveals that she has three other siblings, two sisters and a brother, living in Palestine at the time of the interview.1
  • David Boder: Oh: Were you...were your brother older or younger?
  • Henja Frydman: The brothers were older.
  • David Boder: So. And you were the youngest one?
  • Henja Frydman: I was the youngest one?
  • David Boder: Yes. And what was the occupation of your parents?
  • Henja Frydman: My father was a merchant.
  • David Boder: What was he selling?
  • Henja Frydman: Bonneterie.
  • David Boder: What?
  • Henja Frydman: That is in German--underwear.
  • David Boder: Yes, underwear.
  • Henja Frydman: Underwear.
  • David Boder: Did he have a store?
  • Henja Frydman: No, not a store. By way of his hands.
  • David Boder: Yes. From hand to hand. Now let us go on. You were in Pinsk.
  • Henja Frydman: I was born in Pinsk.In 1924, when Henja was born, Pinsk was in eastern Poland. Today it is part of Belarus. Between the two wars, anti-Semitism and the economic downturn caused by the Great Depression led to large scale Jewish emigration from Pinsk.2
  • David Boder: But where were you when the Germans came to Poland?
  • Henja Frydman: Oh, no. I am already in France for fifteen years.
  • David Boder: Oh?
  • Henja Frydman: I came here as a child.
  • David Boder: Then your parents had moved from Pinsk to France.
  • Henja Frydman: From Pinsk they came...from Russia they came to Pinsk, from Pinsk to Poland; that was during the Russian revolution, in Russia.
  • David Boder: Yes, and then,--
  • Henja Frydman: And then they moved to France.
  • David Boder: Oh. How old were you when you came to France?
  • Henja Frydman: Seven years.
  • David Boder: You were a seven-year-old child.
  • Henja Frydman: Yes.
  • David Boder: And here your father also worked selling underwear?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes. Underwear and various other small things. Just like all other Jews started to make a living.
  • David Boder: Oh, then the Germans came while you were in France.
  • Henja Frydman: In France.
  • David Boder: Oh, Now, go on. Tell us.
  • Henja Frydman: They have come in the year, --'40. They occupied Paris.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: And so about a year or six months passed, and my brother was arrested. He was then 26 years old.Henja's brother was most probably arrested in round-up of foreign born Jewish males in Paris in August 1941.3
  • David Boder: Why was he arrested?
  • Henja Frydman: He was riding to work on a bicycle, and on the way he sees a big raid. The French had erected a barricade, and people were being arrested. He was riding to work, and he noticed that it was not exactly safe. So he turned back to the house to tell my father and my younger brother that they should not leave the house.
  • David Boder: Where was your older brother? Oh yes, that was your older brother.
  • Henja Frydman: That was the older brother.
  • David Boder: Well, so what happened then?
  • Henja Frydman: While he was riding homeward, he was stopped. They requested his papers, and he was what they call in France a engagé volontaire, that is, he had enlisted in the army voluntarily when the war started. But that did not count. he was taken away to Drancy.
  • David Boder: Well, he was a volunteer in the war against the Germans.
  • Henja Frydman: Against the Germans.
  • David Boder: And then he was arrested by the French when the Germans were here?
  • Henja Frydman: When the Germans were here,
  • David Boder: yes. So that didn't count that he was--nothing counted.
  • Henja Frydman: They saw his name was Frydman, they saw that he was Jewish, and they did not look any further at his paper.
  • David Boder: At that time, it was already compulsory to wear the star of David?
  • Henja Frydman: No, at that time the star of David was not yet worn.
  • David Boder: So they sent him where to?
  • Henja Frydman: They sent him away to the first lager in Paris. Drancy.
  • David Boder: Drancy, Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: and [here a few words are incomprehensible; she apparently weeps.]
  • David Boder: And from there did you hear from him?
  • Henja Frydman: At the beginning we had no news from there. What was going on at home one can imagine. The mother [a long pause], she didn't know what to do. I went into the streets [one word not clear] to investigate what exactly was happening. I saw that they were taking all the men, the Jewish ones in the oldest district of Paris. That really was the second time [the second raid] because already a year ago they were taking people from Pithiviers. And then the life started in our home like in so many Jewish homes--one was already missing. In time we got word about happenings in Drancy. People yelled because they have no food. They have nothing to sleep on. It is dirty, and many people die from diarrhea and dysentery. The discipline in the lager was very strict. I shall not describe it.
  • David Boder: Why not? Tell us; we want to know all about it. Do not skip. These things you have heard from other people?
  • Henja Frydman: No. I did not hear it from other people. Because in a short time, in spite of the orders of the Germans and of the French, I managed to get into Drancy.
  • David Boder: Then let's wait with it a bit. First tell me again. Your brother was in Drancy, and then?
  • Henja Frydman: For three months we had no word from him.
  • David Boder: Could you send him food?
  • Henja Frydman: No. For the first three months it was prohibited to send food. There was just nothing we could do to help our own in the lager. We had to suffer through these months just as it was.
  • David Boder: Well, what happened then?
  • Henja Frydman: After three months they started writing. One post-card with a few words in which he said, I am in Drancy, I am well, and nothing more. They didn't have to write because we heard already what was going on in that lager from the inhabitants of Drancy [meaning in this case apparently the suburb of Drancy itself]. They themselves tried to help the people, because they could not stand the screams, "I am hungry, I am hungry." That they heard all day. For the first time in many years people experienced real starvation. They began to understand what German rule means, what it means to have the Germans in France, for the Jews. [A long pause] It is hard for me to describe these misfortunes.Drancy was administered by the French from August 21,1941 to July 1, 1943, after which it was run by the Germans until August 17, 1944. The collaborationist Vichy regime greatly facilitated German rule in France.4
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Henja Frydman: Because after this misfortune there came other catastropnes. And worse than the other.
  • David Boder: Well, you understand how important it is that these events be described. It is hard for you to talk. It is hard for me to listen but it has to be done. You understand. Go on as well as you can.
  • Henja Frydman: In three months a lot of people already started to die. The Germans gave an order that they pick out the young ones up to the age of twenty-five who were in a bad state.
  • David Boder: What does that mean?
  • Henja Frydman: In a bad condition.
  • David Boder: To set them free?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes. Only those up to the age of twenty-five who are in a bad condition.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: We started then to hope that our brother would get out. He was twenty-six years old. I went again to Drancy and saw the people who were released.
  • David Boder: Had you been to Drancy once before?
  • Henja Frydman: I was here already before. But I couldn't see him, because they were not permitted to show their faces. And we couldn't see them.
  • David Boder: Could you please describe the place of Drancy where they were kept?
  • Henja Frydman: I can describe this place very well, because--
  • David Boder: Oh, yes. Let us do it later. Because you were there.
  • Henja Frydman: I lived there for a year before Drancy became a lager.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Henja Frydman: I lived there when they started building.
  • David Boder: When they started building?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes. Since in America there are tall buildings, they started here to build such a building, which was intended for the gendarmerie.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: And as a child I was going to play there, and a few years afterwards I was going to see my brother there. The buildings were ready, though the people who lived in these buildings didn't know for what purpose and for whom they would be used.
  • David Boder: Then the building was built a long time before?
  • Henja Frydman: A long time before. A number of years.
  • David Boder: Yes. It was not built by prisoners.
  • Henja Frydman: No, no. They looked very nice, like buildings for large families, or for soldiers or for police who had an armory.
  • David Boder: So when you came to Drancy--
  • Henja Frydman: When I came to Drancy, I was very much--it is hard for me to tell it in Yiddish--surprised.
  • David Boder: You were very much surprised. [Footnote: She stated at the beginning that she would speak German. Her German was rather ungrammatical but fluent. During the interview she does not call her dialect German but Yiddish. Here we have the peculiar language pattern so frequently found among the DPs. First Yiddish-Russian, then French, then German, then French again. The consequences for mental health and personality adjustment of such forced changes of linguistic behavior, most frequently under duress, with but little or no scholastic aid, have hardly been explored.]The language pattern noted here by Boder might have been linked to the stress experienced by the interviewees in recalling their traumatic experiences, the tension caused by the interview process, and the time interviewees spent with persecuted victims of other nationalities.5
  • Henja Frydman: I was very much surprised. Here the houses are ready, and instead of people living in them they were occupied by Jewish prisoners.
  • David Boder: Now then, after three months, why was not your brother released?
  • Henja Frydman: He was not released because he looked too well, and because he was one year older. The number of the released was very small. I was waiting all day, and before my eyes there came out corpses, just corpses. I was sixteen years old, and for the first time before my eyes marched dead people. I have never before in my life seen a corpse.
  • David Boder: Men and women?
  • Henja Frydman: Just men, only men. They were only men.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: They were unable to walk, their eyes looked wild, they were unable to talk. The same picture we have seen from the lager Auschwitz or other various lagers. None humans. It was grotesque. Two legs, two hands they had, but no face of a normal person. The families came and those who were able to recognize their own--because not always could they be recognized--only a few recognized them, and they took them home and their joy was great. And the mourning of those whose own remained in the lager was also very great.
  • David Boder: What happened to them?
  • Henja Frydman: A large number died at home, because if a mother got back her child, he was given his ration, and he being very hungry threw himself at the food, and they would get sick, and they would not adjust to the change.This is precisely what occurred immediately after the liberation of the concentration camps. Many of the newly freed inmates became sick and died due to the effects of the sudden change in diet, which their weakened bodies could not handle.6
  • David Boder: The change? [Interviewer translates thus what is really a neologism which she made up for the word change.]
  • Henja Frydman: The change of the food--of the food and also of life. And so the time passed, and the people who remained in Drancy remained there. Conditions improved there a little bit. We were allowed to send packages to the lager, and it is superfluous to say that everyone, the families who didn't have enough for themselves, sent whatever they could to their own in the lager. People started to get letters. Not in the legal way. In an illegal way. And my brother wrote that we should not worry about him. Nothing would happen.
  • David Boder: What do you mean, 'nothing would happen'?
  • Henja Frydman: Nothing would happen, he would come through, that the Germans would go away. He wanted to give hope to the family. But he was intelligent enough not to expect anything. People talked already about deportations. To be shipped away, one did not know where. And it was. All at once we got a letter. [A long pause--here apparently she weeps. Her silent weeping now goes over into sobs.] And my brother was being deported. [A long pause. Again Miss Frydman continues in tears.] The mourning at home was great.The emotions Henja experienced here and elsewhere when talking about her family illustrates how attached she was to her parents and two brothers, and how deeply felt their loss was for her.7
  • David Boder: They knew in advance that they were being deported?
  • Henja Frydman: It was known that they were being deported.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: It was told that they are going to lagers to work. But our instinct told us that it is not for work, because we already had seen what they made of people still infants near to Paris, that humans were made into no-humans. Deported. And there was no more word from him.
  • David Boder: Where was he deported? Do you know?
  • Henja Frydman: We didn't know where he was deported.
  • David Boder: Was it found out later?
  • Henja Frydman: Afterwards, when I was deported to Auschwitz, I asked and around everywhere among the men. Possibly somebody knew, but nobody had seen him. [Her speech here is still interrupted by repeated blowing of her nose.] Why he wasn't seen I know; because my brother had died of typhus, right at the beginning.
  • David Boder: Who informed you about that?
  • Henja Frydman: One of our acquaintances who has now returned. He had seen him in the lager Auschwitz in 1942, that my brother fell, that he got sick with typhus, and died immediately afterwards. In 1942 it was impossible to overcome an illness in Auschwitz because there was no hospital; there was no nothing. There were only Germans, just to kill the people, not to let them live. Only by miracle some people survived, from the year 1942, because in 1942 Auschwitz was not a work lager, but Auschwitz was--and it was written so on a sign--an extermination lager.In 1942 Auschwitz was in fact both a concentration and extermination camp, and remained so until the fall of 1944 when Heinrich Himmler ordered the dismantling of its gas chambers and crematoria. Subsequently, of course, inmates continued to die from other causes. The sign Henja is referring to might have been the cynical, ironic sign, "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free").8
  • David Boder: Where was it written?
  • Henja Frydman: [Somewhat resentful] It was written--and one could understand the meaning of Dante. [Interviewer appeared somewhat surprised, because she gave the French pronunciation of the name, which at the moment he failed to understand, and by way of explanation she gave the name in Italian.]The reference here might be to the greeting for those entering hell in Dante's Inferno: "Abandon Hope All You Who Enter Here."9
  • David Boder: Oh, yes.
  • Henja Frydman: 'He who enters here does not come out anymore.' And so it was. People entered but did not come out. Oh, yes, they came out through the chimneys. There are various ways to get out, and through these ways [the chimneys] the Jews came out.
  • David Boder: The chimneys--that were--
  • Henja Frydman: The crematories.
  • David Boder: The chimneys.
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, the chimneys.
  • David Boder: And you were still at home?
  • Henja Frydman: And we still were at home. The time passed. Life is strong. We remained with hope, with little hope. And we lived on. I studied.
  • David Boder: Where did you study?
  • Henja Frydman: In the "faculty" of Paris.
  • David Boder: What did you study, Henja?
  • Henja Frydman: For teacher. To become [a teacher] of foreign languages.
  • David Boder: What language did you study?
  • Henja Frydman: English, English! I can't speak [it] anymore, because I have forgotten it in the lager, almost everything I have learned. It comes back in trickles. But with great difficulty. My father worked, my younger brother also worked.
  • David Boder: What did your father work in?
  • Henja Frydman: There wasn't much to do, but he peddled, the same as before, from hand to hand. We had enough to live on, to live very simply. But in those times that was already unimportant. What was important was to manage to survive the Germans, and to be--to take care that the family should not be struck again.
  • David Boder: And so?
  • Henja Frydman: And so the time passed, and one day we got word that the Germans were preparing a torch raid on the Jews, especially against young girls and young boys. From eighteen to twenty--twenty-three--twenty-five years of age. We found it out from a French policeman. We should not remain at home. Informed that only the young would be taken, my parents said that I should hide with a French girl friend with whom I went to school. And so I did, and my brother was also to go away to one of his friends. And so--that was--I really can't tell you exactly when.
  • David Boder: The dates are unimportant. Just tell what happened. The historical facts are taken care of in another manner.Namely, in the introduction and footnotes to these interviews.10
  • Henja Frydman: My friend received me very well. The night--this I am unable to describe. My parents remained at home. And I did not believe that they would take only the young. My suspicions were correct. At night they came to our home, as to all Jewish homes, to take my father and my mother. Right the next morning when I heard the news that in all Paris they had taken the Jews, I immediately took a bus and went home to ask the neighbors, the people who lived around, what has happened to my parents. Nobody was able to tell. From house to house, from acquaintance to acquaintance. I found out that the police had come at night, and they said that they were going up to the second floor to another Jewish tenant, and so my father and mother and brother got out of the house and disappeared in the night. They got away and came to acquaintances who were French, Jewish-French; and there they hid because in those times they did not take yet French Jews. I found out about it, and I came to them. And the scene at the moment shall also not be described. One can't imagine it. A child that has thought that her parents were already in the hands of the Germans, and she sees that they are not yet fallen into their hands. Three months my parents were hiding with those Jews and lived in terror. They could not leave the house. Neither could they work.
  • David Boder: And where were you?
  • Henja Frydman: I was hiding with the French. I would come three times a week to see my parents. I managed by that time to get French papers as an Aryan, not as a Jewess.
  • David Boder: And your brother?
  • Henja Frydman: My brother was with my parents. He remained together with them. I started working with the French Resistance, with the youth. And they fixed the papers for me. My parents did not know about it. I did not want to tell them, so that they should not have to worry about me.
  • David Boder: Tell me a bit. How was the Resistance formed?
  • Henja Frydman: The Resistance was formed through small groups of young people, who belonged to various clubs. Sport clubs managed to get together. At school they also had talks among themselves. In my group we made a Jewish section, because Jews had other methods of action. They could not move around freely, and at first could not do the same things as the others, because to supply them with false identification papers was not a matter of one day. So it was a section of the Resistance. It wasn't the business of one day to manage the papers. So we had to find a place to live till the false papers were arranged, and that was not easy. In a few months, in three months, we started working with the French cells. Just like the French. A number of us became French Partisans. Partisans you have heard about. Many of us worked in propaganda. Others of us worked in solidarity units, that is, to help the mothers who had remained with children. And many of us were arrested in a short time but that could not scare us; we went on with our work. It is understood that in spite of the fact that we were in the Resistance, we had different viewpoints. The groups originated not only in sport groups, but also there were various political groups. I belonged to the Communist youth.The French communist resistance movement was energized by the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 21, 1941 and the abrogation of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. Although Henja was at first in a specifically Jewish section of the communist resistance (which contained a number of Polish-born Jews), she indicates that her section later merged with the general communist resistance movement. The acronym for the military branch of the communist resistance was FTP-MOI.11
  • David Boder: Since when did you belong to the Communist youth? Did you belong to the Communist youth before or only when you started to work with the Resistance?
  • Henja Frydman: I belonged to it already before. And then with my Communist friends I found a contact with the Resistance.
  • David Boder: How old were you then?
  • Henja Frydman: I was eighteen years old.
  • David Boder: Well?
  • Henja Frydman: To describe further the Resistance. It was that which the papers wrote so much after liberation. Many fell, and many were imprisoned.
  • David Boder: What did you do personally in the Resistance?
  • Henja Frydman: I was connected with the solidarity group, because as a young child my character was developed towards service to others. Also as a propagandist; that meant to supply the population with tracts. [Apparently leaflets]
  • David Boder: Written?
  • Henja Frydman: Typed on the typewriter. I was working at night, at home on the typewriter, making the leaflets for distribution, or getting those tracts.
  • David Boder: What are those tracts? Papers?
  • Henja Frydman: Papers on which propaganda was written. And we spoke to the French people, that they should not be influenced by the collaborationists and they should not trust a German.
  • David Boder: Well, how long?
  • Henja Frydman: I worked a year and lived in a room high up and visited my parents three times a week. They didn't know anything about it.
  • David Boder: What do you mean by that?
  • Henja Frydman: I would come to visit my parents three times a week, to see what was going on. In time they returned to our home. And my younger brother worked in a fur coat factory. When my father told me to return home because my brother was working, I got very much excited. To work in a fur factory! But for whom? The Germans. One fur coat, two fur coats, said my father. You cannot fight the German, and with it [apparently "making coats"] you won't help the Germans.
  • David Boder: [In English]This is the end of the spool 29 by Miss Frydman . We shall continue on spool 30. Paris, August 7 1946. 9 Rue de Patin, in a home for adult displaced jewish person.
  • David Boder: [In English] This is spool 30. August 7 1946. 9 rue de Patin in Paris, a home for adult jewish displaced people. This is a continuation of the report of Miss Henya Frydman, age 23.
  • David Boder: [In Yiddish] And so your father told you to go to work. Go on.
  • Henja Frydman: I should stay home and stay with them, because he did not want us to be separated. But I didn't grant his wish. [pause]
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Henja Frydman: Why? First I belonged to the Resistance, and the Resistance did not permit one to work for the Germans, only against the Germans.
  • David Boder: Only against the Germans.
  • Henja Frydman: Only against the Germans. And secondly, a Jew in general should not move for the Germans even a finger because that was his greatest enemy in the world. He had a task to destroy them. Not for them, but against them, he had to take his position. That is what I told my father. My parents were already old, about fifty-six, and of course they could not share my views. They feared for their daughter and they thought that if she would live with them she would be at home and could be protected by a [work] certificate. She would be able to leave the terrible conditions, so to speak, in which we all found ourselves. I couldn't say that my father worked for the Germans. No. He did not work for them. Through his connections he got a certificate. My brother was working, like many young people, in a factory which previously was a factory of fur jackets. But the difference was that [now] the fur jackets were going to Germany, whether we cared to know or not. That was the situation. I did not return home and so I got torn away from my parents. In the nine months, the time I was separated from my parents, I was only coming to see them from time to time, because it was impossible to visit them often. The police on the streets were very strict. They questioned one for his papers.
  • David Boder: But you had Aryan papers.
  • Henja Frydman: Aryan papers, but they could see very readily that my papers were not in order. I had no occupational papers. I had no identification of nationality. They were just simply cards. Only to give the person who possessed such a card the belief that this would proyect him. But it would not. One was taking a risk. One day I went for a meeting with comrades of my party and of the Resistance.
  • David Boder: Were you still with the Jewish section?
  • Henja Frydman: Together. Now it was already mixed. In time we found ways, with some mishaps along the way. Such things happened. But we started working together. Once I come to a meeting and I don't find anybody. I go from friend to friend and nobody can be found. I find out that they have arrested a number of my friends who worked with me. And I am given to understand that I can't remain anymore where I have been living.
  • David Boder: Who gave you to understand that?
  • Henja Frydman: A responsible--
  • David Boder: Person?
  • Henja Frydman: Person. The problem was about my parents.Family solidarity helped those persecuted maintain their morale, but it also inhibited active resistance. Young adult children were concerned about their parents and wanted to protect and shelter them as much as they could, rather than undertaking risky actions against the enemy. Later in the interview, Henja reveals that family solidarity inhibited escape attempts from the deportation train.12 I was told to leave Paris. I did not want to leave Paris, because my parents would have got scared, and so I remained in Paris. I hid with a French friend who did not work in the Resistance. He knew what I was, who I was, and he hid me for eight days. But I couldn't live in this fashion for long. All my things were in my room. And I went back to my place. No good things were waiting for me. But the instinct drove me, and I went ahead. Before going up to my room, I asked the concierge--what they call them in France, which means---
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Henja Frydman: The one who watches.
  • David Boder: The janitress?
  • Henja Frydman: The janitress. Yes. 'Nobody was here to see me?' She says, 'No.'It is unclear whether or not the concierge knew that the French police were waiting for Henja in her room and failed to warn her. It is, however, indisputable that Vichy's anti-Semitic policies could not have been carried out without the complicity of countless ordinary French citizens. The official post-war French view, which divided French men and women into a majority of heroic resisters and a minority of cowardly collaborators, is untrue.13 'Are there any letters for me?' She says, 'No.' She did not know who I was. She did not know that I was Jewish.
  • David Boder: Was that the janitress?--where your parents lived?
  • Henja Frydman: No, no, no. That was where I was hiding as an Aryan.
  • David Boder: Oh, yes.
  • Henja Frydman: Yes. And I go up to my room. When I put the key to open the door there stand before me three French inspectors, from the special brigade. The special police against the political--one can say a second bureau that was composed not of people who guard the country.It appears that the inspectors who arrested Henja were from the section of the French police designated to investigate political subversion rather than the special anti-Jewish police force created by the Vichy government. The French police had records which helped in their identification of suspects.14
  • David Boder: The interests of the country?
  • Henja Frydman: The interests of the country, but in the interests of the Germans. These were Frenchmen. Three revolvers appeared before my eyes. I began to laugh. I laughed from nervousness. I also laughed because I was eighteen years old, young, unarmed, and I see three frightened Frenchmen inspectors, who immediately sat me down on a chair and started searching my things. The condition in which I found my room cannot be described. Everything--from my luggage, my books, my notebooks in which I had been writing--everything was thrown around when they searched. They tried to find tracts or books. They found nothing in my place, because I had enough prudence--
  • David Boder: Caution?
  • Henja Frydman: Caution. Not to keep in my room incriminating material. My last name, my Jewish last name, was not disclosed. My French name was Feran, Evelyn. But they discovered immediately my real name, and said--
  • David Boder: Oh. How did they discover it?
  • Henja Frydman: They discovered it through the police. They investigated my biography, which was found with one of the responsible comrades who was arrested.
  • David Boder: Oh, they found it with him?
  • Henja Frydman: They found it with him. It was well hidden in his place, but they still found it, and in spite of the fact that the biography was written in a secret code, the still found out my real name, my address. In my biography it was stated that my parents did not know that I am working in the party, and when they started asking me where were my parents, I told them, 'I don't know; I haven't seen my parents for already two years.' They asked me what I was living from, what my occupation was, and one of them held his hand raised, so in case I did not answer, he would strike me. I continued laughing. They asked me why I laughed. So I told them, 'I am laughing at you. At your three revolvers that are pointed at me. I have nothing.' They told me to get my things ready, to come with them to the station. Then came up the man in charge of the inspectors, and he immediately started questioning me, one question after the other, believing that he would get out from me immediately the truth. 'What do you live from,' he asked me, 'Sure you are not a smart girl? 'You may think what you wish.'
  • David Boder: What does smart girl mean?
  • Henja Frydman: I live from what men give me--money to live on.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Henja Frydman: I could not tell him that I lived from money that my parents were giving me because I did not want to talk about my parents. I knew that one word about my parents, and they would be taken also. Where from do I have the papers? A whole story came to my imagination, and I spun a yarn, a very foolish yarn. One did not need, for them, a very smart yarn. I asked the inspectors permission--excuse me, but I have to recollect the events. But I want to show you how far the French inspectors were already educated--one really can't say even educated, because they had not time to get educated. They were already corrupt. I asked his permission to go to the toilet. So one of the inspectors led me all the way to the toilet, and he did not close the door. He followed me every step and spoke ugly words. For the first time in my life my feminine dignity was attacked. I could not imagine that there are in the world such men. They took me to the station. I took with me the things I could carry--my winter clothes, because I understood that I was to be deported, too. From the station I was taken to the bureau, and there were hundreds of inspectors. One after another, they interrogated me.
  • David Boder: They questioned you?
  • Henja Frydman: Questioned me. I answered irrelevant things. They asked me who got me into the political Resistance. I didn't tell them who. What are my ideas? My answers were, if they were going to arrest people, they should be able to find out what kind of convictions those people have.
  • David Boder: Weren't you afraid to give such answers?
  • Henja Frydman: I was not afraid, because I knew whether I talked or didn't they would beat me anyway, but by accident or by luck they did not beat me. And why? For two days, day and night, they were beating my comrades who were arrested before me. I was among the last. They were already tired. They had nothing to find out, because they knew. And so they left me alone. I slept alone in a room in the secret division, as they called it, with six policemen in the room, on the table with no blanket, no nothing, no food, although I had no desire to eat. Through an inspector, who was--I felt that he was not an enemy, I sent a letter to my parents. There again my instinct was sound. He came to my parents and gave them the letter. And in the letter I wrote to my parents that [I said] I hadn't seen them for two years in case the police came to question them, they should find out that we hadn't seen each other for a long time. And so it was.
  • David Boder: And how long had you not seen your parents?
  • Henja Frydman: One week's time--one weeks time. But nobody knew about it. Only my parents had seen me. The neighbors didn't even know that I was in Paris. They thought that the daughter of Aaron Frydman, my parents, had abandoned her parents and had gone away. From the prefecture I went to the French depot, where I met my political friends from the Resistance. We started to compare notes.
  • David Boder: Also Jewish girls.
  • Henja Frydman: Also Jewish. Only Jewish girls. We were sixty Jewish women in that depot. And sixty Jewish women. I emphasize sixty Jewish women, sixty Jewish girls, because it is being said that the Jews were hiding and that the Jews did nothing.The post-war calumny that the Jewish of France meekly accepted their fate is refuted by Henja's account. Henri Michel, a respected historian of the French resistance, estimated that some 25% of the French Jewish community was involved in resistance work, a far greater percentage than that of the general population.15
  • David Boder: Who says that?
  • Henja Frydman: The French. The anti-Semites. And it is being said everywhere. What good a Jew does is not being acknowledged. What he does wrong there is a whole world to yell about it, and to describe it. They didn't talk about the sixty girls, sixty Jewish girls arrested here in prison. They didn't tell about the women who were beaten naked, and who were starved. They didn't talk about them. Women, mothers of children, worked in the Resistance. Women from the Communist party, indeed in large numbers, Communist or not, they worked against the Germans. And that is what counts. The faces were unrecognizable, from the beatings of the Germans. The sick around us, they were all locked up. We spent three weeks in the depot. I received one package from my family, a package made by my mother. I wept bitterly. Feeling the sufferings of my parents. I thought that I had fulfilled my task as a youth, and as a Jewish daughter. From the depot we were sent away--the whole Jewish group. They didn't make a political issue of us. They did not make of our case a question of the Resistance. They made of our case a Jewish question. And for Jews there was one place, Drancy, and from Drancy--deportation. I came to the same lager where my brother was. I even met some men who had lived together with my brother.
  • David Boder: But he wasn't there anymore?
  • Henja Frydman: He wasn't there anymore, because by that time he was already in Auschwitz, I believe. We spent three months in Drancy. During these three months there was no talk about deportation. Before, by the hundreds, people--men, women, and children--were already deported from this lager. And we were waiting. We knew our turn would come.
  • David Boder: Will you please describe the lager now?
  • Henja Frydman: Drancy was an armory for men and women. By the time I came to Drancy, there were already separate barracks for men and separate barracks for women. Separate barracks for foreign [Jews] and separate barracks for French Jews. There were also special departments for Aryans. Everything was very nicely classified, so that at the time of deportation they would pick out the ones they needed. Life had improved in Drancy.After mid-November 1942, the food and general living situation at Drancy improved from what they had been at the beginning of the camp's existence with the help of French Jewish organizations.16
  • David Boder: What were people doing there all day?
  • Henja Frydman: All day people were doing nothing. In the morning they would take men and women to straighten up the rooms, to cook and to peel potatoes. Everything we got was rotten. We did not get anything fresh.
  • David Boder: Did they peel the potatoes before cooking, or after the cooking?
  • Henja Frydman: The potatoes were peeled before cooking. The food was no good, but we received packages from home. That was permitted, a package a week. Many did not receive packages, because there were no more families at home. And we shared with those who had no packages. As to food, conditions were good. What does it mean, good? It wasn't like at home, but we didn't starve. And in comparison with the depot and the prefecture, Drancy appeared not too bad. Personally, my group, with my group we did not let time pass doing nothing, so that we should not become demoralized, because that was the intent of the Germans. We read, and we studied, we had among us teachers, and they arranged courses. The day passed quickly.Despite difficult conditions, Jewish religious and cultural life was maintained at Drancy. Engaging in study, giving moral and psychological support, and dancing and singing to lift spirits should be considered as forms of resistance. Subsequently, Henja relates that when she and others were deported to Drancy they were singing.17
  • David Boder: Could you get together with the men, or were all the women all by themselves?
  • Henja Frydman: We could get together with them. Up until nine o'clock in the evening, one could get together with them. There were many strict rules, but for us it wasn't so hard. Some have managed to get out from the dungeons of the French Gestapo, the German Gestapo, so here it appeared like a boarding house.
  • David Boder: Would they allow you to get together, to talk, to sing?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes. We could get together. We would sing. We even danced. They day passed quickly, and the three months, that is the time that I was in Drancy, passed quickly. Through the wires we looked at freedom, and freedom was within ten meters from us. We were thinking about liberty, about home, about the family, who no doubt were deeply longing for us. From day to day, and all at once the lager is blocked, and the lager commandant, the German--his name is known, because he was arrested--came to the lager.
  • David Boder: What was his name?
  • Henja Frydman: His name is--[a pause]--I can't recall. He is famous, the lager commander of Drancy.
  • David Boder: Yes. Was he arrested?
  • Henja Frydman: Brenner! Brenner is his name. He was arrested after liberation. He was seen, and he was arrested.
  • David Boder: What did they do to him?
  • Henja Frydman: He was tried--in a court. In--Nurnberg. I think he was also there.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Henja Frydman: [Somewhat hesitantly, as if she were not sure] He was given the death penalty.
  • David Boder: Was the sentence carried out? Was he executed?
  • Henja Frydman: [Excitedly] Yes, he was executed. There was, of course, a reason to execute him. He has sent enough people to their death. And his trial has taken too much time, just like all other trials. He was executed.Alois Brunner, one of Adolf Eichmann's chief assistants, assumed command of Drancy on July 2, 1943. Before coming to Drancy he had helped deport Jews from Vienna, Moravia and Greece. Once installed at Drancy, Brunner removed the Vichy-appointed camp commander and ran it with the help of SS officers. His rule was characterized by a marked deterioration of conditions for the inmates and concerted efforts to deport imprisoned Jews to Auschwitz. After the war Brunner disappeared. He was not tried at Nuremberg, but was tried in absentia in Paris in 1954 and sentenced to death. However, he was eventually granted asylum in Syria and lived there for many years under an assumed name. Brunner was never brought to justice.18 [Footnote: One cannot help observing that the first half of the story of Brenner was told in a rather hesitant and phlegmatic way. One cannot really be sure whether she is informed of the facts or not. Or is it, as in so many cases of DPs, that she really does not want to talk about the Germans and whatever happened to them? Only in the second part, when she begins, 'and there was a reason for' she becomes animated and persuasive.] [After a pause] He came, and they prepared lists. Each one was questioned. They did not say for what purpose. They were very insistent in asking whether we still had families in France, and where these families were, but we were not so foolish as to tell about our families. He simply said, 'Where is your family, so that we can send you away together.'This feigned solicitousness towards the victims was typical of Nazi deception. Later Henja recounts how upon the arrival of her transport at Auschwitz, the SS asked those who were old or weak to board trucks which would take them into the camp so they wouldn't have to walk. The trucks went straight to the gas chambers. It is unclear who the "he" to whom Henja refers might be.19
  • David Boder: But you were getting packages. Wasn't it known that they came from your family?
  • Henja Frydman: They knew, but frequently the packages would not come with the address of the family. I didn't tell them where my family lived. And three days passed, three days of blockade, very strictly; one couldn't say a word in the lager. The police watched us strictly. We didn't sleep nights anymore, because we knew something was going to happen. There was no deportation for a long time, but the moment had come also for us, and so it was. At two o'clock in the morning they came into our rooms. They called out our names and told us to get ready for deportation.
  • David Boder: [Words did not appear in original text.]
  • Henja Frydman: In the year '43 in the month of April. Oh, no, it was the twenty-third of June. I remember that date very well. One post card to write to the family. Our sadness was very great, not because we were afraid to be deported. Even Drancy was near Paris, nearer to the family. In spite of that, we didn't see them. But we lived in proximity. And to be deported--possible it was a separation forever. We knew it. We were placed in special blocks--those who were assigned to be deported, and I was among them. And my whole group. That day our friends from Twines [??] arrived, very emaciated.
  • David Boder: Where is Twines?
  • Henja Frydman: A prison.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: From Sante Romainville, and they came from there.
  • David Boder: All girls, too?
  • Henja Frydman: Boys and girls, assigned to be deported, to be sent away. [A pause] Each of us wrote a postcard home. I personally wrote to my parents that I am departing, where I am going I don't know, but I hope to be back to see them. I wrote to them that they should not remain in Paris, because the German has a program. He will not be satisfied with a few Jews. I told them that I would try to understand the events, that I should try to escape from the transport.
  • David Boder: Run away?
  • Henja Frydman: To run away. And if I should succeed, they should not remain at home, because they would come to them, and they would be taken in my place if they should be found. My writing was without success. My parents received the postcard, but they thought that my youth gave me ideas. In the train we were locked up, seventy to a car, in a cattle car.
  • David Boder: What was it, and open car?
  • Henja Frydman: No, entirely closed. Women, men, and children together. The windows were shut. All the food we had was just what they gave us before embarking and what packages we had.
  • David Boder: [In English] This concludes Spool 30 of Ms. Henja Frydman, the second spool of the interview, and we are going over to the third. This is an Illinois Institute of Technology recording on the wire recorder, done on August 7, 1946....August 7, 1946, 9 Rue de Patin in Paris.
  • David Boder: This is Spool 9-9-31. The additional 9 indicates that the reproduction was done... made not from the original but from a satisfactory reproduction. The orginal was slightly damaged after the reproduction was made. There is some irrelevant material on this spool, a part apparently picked up before the interview was annouced, a kind of a chit-chat between the interviewer and the interviewee. October 22nd, 1950. Boder.
  • Henja Frydman: One thing I wanted: to write. I wanted to describe all this. But I tore up everything I had written. When I would think back to the life in the lager, it was hard for me to write my own biography.A number of the survivors, Elie Wiesel among them, had to wait for a period of time to write about their experiences in order to gain sufficient perspective and the emotional and psychological ability to recount them.20 [The above words were apparently said while the new spool of wire was being adjusted, and were recorded inadvertently. We continue with what follows.]
  • David Boder: [In English] This is Spool 31, a continuation of spool 29 and 30 of Henya Frydman. We are now at the moment where the deportees were put into trains for deportation from Drancy to Germany.
  • David Boder: [In Yiddish] And now?
  • Henja Frydman: Three days we traveled by rail. Three frightful days. No air, no toilet.
  • David Boder: So what would you do about the toilet?
  • Henja Frydman: They gave us a bucket, and there among men, women, and children, everyone had--
  • David Boder: To take care of himself.
  • Henja Frydman: To take care of himself. The air--that I don't need to describe. One was badly nauseated from the food that we had. The meat we got in the lager Drancy before leaving was very bad, and we wanted to drink. Drink! There wasn't anything. From time to time the train would stop, and we could send out one bucket of the two that we had for a toilet to get some water, and we drank water. And from the water there started a terrible diarrhea.
  • David Boder: Diarrhea?
  • Henja Frydman: Diarrhea. And you can imagine that it was just impossible to stand it in the car. Women fainted. No medicines, no doctor, no nothing. People got sick. And in other cars during these three days people went insane and also were dying. We tried to make a plan of escape.
  • David Boder: To run away?
  • Henja Frydman: To run away. Unfortunately, the greater part of my comrades were some with their mothers, some with their sisters.
  • David Boder: In the train?
  • Henja Frydman: In the train. Because they gathered the families together with other comrades when they went down with the Resistance, their whole family was arrested, and they were deported in families. And so one didn't want to abandon the mother, another didn't want to abandon the sister, another had a child. And the three days passed, and we remained in the car. And so we arrived at Oświęcim.
  • David Boder: Oświęcim? That is--?
  • Henja Frydman: Oświęcim is in Polish and Auschwitz in French. The first thing we saw were very emaciated men, in bathing suits."Auschwitz" is in fact German. The "bathing suits" Henja describes were probably in fact the striped prisoner uniforms worn in Auschwitz.21 And we were thinking, 'What could these be? Maybe we are out of our minds?' We could not imagine that these were our own Jews. We didn't recognize them. They were marching five abreast, and looked at us with horror in their eyes, and we also could not understand why their faces were so full of terror when they saw us. I have to mention that in our transport there were a lot of children, and I also forgot to tell you that when we departed for Drancy we were singing.
  • David Boder: From Drancy?
  • Henja Frydman: From Drancy. The French Marseillaise, a revolutionary song. We were screaming, we were yelling that they shouldn't let them deport us. And the police threw themselves on us and even wanted to fight with us.
  • David Boder: Do you remember any of these songs?
  • Henja Frydman: The Marseillaise?
  • David Boder: No; some other? Some of the Resistance, revolutionary songs? Can you remember any? [There is a silence. Apparently she shook her head.]
  • Henja Frydman: May be just the words.
  • David Boder: Yes just in a low sing a few--just in a light voice, but give the words clearly.
  • Henja Frydman: I shall try. [She sings one verse, of eight lines in French, to the tune of the so-called Wrshavjanka, a melody which was sung by the Revolutionaries in Russia. Whether the words are new or the same has yet to be established. They sound very much the same.] Now I will sing a song that I composed myself with a friend in Twize [??] when I was imprisoned there. It is a Russian melody. [She sings two stanzas. The melody which she claims is Russian really consists of two songs. The first is a Russian song which starts with the words, "In vain you, boy, are coming," but the second half appears not to be in Russian. The words will be given in the appendix.]
  • David Boder: And so you arrived.
  • Henja Frydman: At Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: Yes. [She nervously blows her nose.]
  • Henja Frydman: Now begins the long chapter of two years imprisonment in Auschwitz. It will not be easy for me, indeed, as all of us say when we are asked to tell. To tell! That is the hardest thing for us. Why? Because there are no words. No way of expressing it, that can describe what happened from the day when we disembarked from the train in the lager Auschwitz until the day of our liberation.Henja was imprisoned in Auschwitz from the end of June 1943 until her liberation by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. Indeed, ordinary language cannot begin to convey the horrors of the deepest circle of the Nazi hell or what has been called "planet Auschwitz."22 The liberation of a few hundred deportees from Auschwitz. I was almost two years in the lager. I was fortunate enough not to be evacuated like the others on the roads, where so many have died, after two years of life in the lager. We were lined up five abreast, men on the one side, women on the other side. German officers, with a stick in hand, with savage outcries which were for us still new, started dividing us up, one to the right, one to the left, whichever way it would occur to them. 'Leave your bundles here; you will return presently. We will just count you up.' We left our packages, women were separated from men, sisters from brothers, women to one side, and the men away to the other side. They then started what was called a selection. They asked us who were tired, and they told these to step into the trucks which were waiting. They also told us that the old people shouldn't exert themselves by walking on foot, and that they should mount the trucks and they would be driven to the lager, and the young ones should walk. [The next sentence is not clear.] Out of a transport of fifteen hundred people, men, women, and children--a large number were children--we came into the lager two hundred and fifty French girls and women, and the rest climbed into the trucks, the rest of the women and the older men, also the sick, and they told us the trucks go to a second lager. The men were handled the same way as we were when we started our march to the lager. Now we enter. German soldiers lead us. We assemble on a large square--empty, not a tree grows, not a living human being outside--only Germans. And yelling, 'Fast!' and 'Move on!' The words that we already knew well. We looked at each other--to speak was prohibited--and we see that we are already trapped good. When one enters the lager at the gates, there are flowers, beautiful flowers indeed. And the windows are adorned with very beautiful curtains, and you know what these curtains were--Thalsisin [prayer shawls]--Jewish prayer shawls for curtains.Prayer shawl in Hebrew is Tallit; pl. Tallitot.23 I stared at it--my father used to pray every day--and I was thinking, 'How is it that we see a Thaleis, a Jewish Thaleis on these windows--hung up there?' And that meant a lot. The hanging of the prayer shawls meant a lot. We were moved into a barracks, we were locked up for all night with no food, no drink. We didn't have anymore our things. They called in girls from the lager, Slovakian girls, Jewish, and they started first of all to take off our "fingers" the golden things that one had, watches, engagement rings--all that was taken off.
  • David Boder: Were you permitted to have that in Drancy?
  • Henja Frydman: It was not permitted in Drancy, but many women and people had hidden these things, and there was no very strict control. Why wasn't it very strict? Because they knew that in Oświęcim they would be taken away. And immediately they started to tattoo us. That means to write the number on our hands. Many fainted. I personally revived three of my acquaintances. With a pen they wrote the numbers on our hands with a special ink--the number which I still have today, first, because it won't come off, and second, because I don't want to remove it.Henja's decision not to remove the tattoo on her left arm was prompted by her desire to bear witness to what she had endured and to remind the world of the evils of Nazism. It was the imperative to bear witness which helped strengthen her will to live in Auschwitz. But the tattoo was also a painful daily reminder of all that she had suffered and all that she had lost.24 The number was written on, and hungry, in dirt and in the cold--in spite of the fact that it was in the month of June, it is very cold in upper Silesia--we lay down to sleep on the ground. One German woman was with us in the barracks, and she said that we would have to manage this night, and tomorrow we would go into our barracks. That night, the first night, we couldn't sleep, couldn't believe it was we who lived that way. Lying on the floor, we were frightfully tired. One of our friends were insane and was yelling, because things made a terrible impression on her. She was in panic.
  • David Boder: What did she yell?
  • Henja Frydman: She was yelling--I don't remember exactly. All I know is she went insane from the transport. She went insane because she left in France a child. From fright, we were lying one over the other like animals. Stepping one on the other. We finally lived to see the dawn, the day of Auschwitz. That is, the day begins at 4:00. A husky German women from those--with a black triangle, which we learned afterwards meant a German prostitute, started pushing us around, and led us to what was called a shower bath. That is, where people went to bathe. On the way to the "zaune" [shower-bath] we had to stand in the lager, on the lager street they called it, and it was the hour when the men assembled to go to work. And we hear music. A march of death--exactly a march of death. We see how men are beaten, and people scream, and men fall, --one cannot call them men. They had no more the appearance of men. Frightfully thin, dressed in rags, faces full of panic, in tatters, marching five abreast, and singing because they were ordered to sing.
  • David Boder: What were they singing?
  • Henja Frydman: German songs. German songs, German marches, that the Germans have taught them in the lager. And so we had the first contact with Auschwitz. With clubs and with yells we were told to take off all we had on. Naked men worked in the zaune, prisoners, and in front of the German men and women undressed, naked, and left their things. From above a man and two or three of them looked at us; our eyes were fixed on the earth, and we could not believe what was happening. First of all, we were taken to the shearing room. Again Slovakian girls--why Slovakians? Because they were the first prisoners in the lager -those were girls about twenty years of age, those who managed to survive the year of torment. Then in the year '43. They started talking to us, and we asked them, the first question, where did the truck go on which our parents went off and our other friends.
  • David Boder: Your parents weren't there?
  • Henja Frydman: My parents weren't there, but the parents of the others. And they said, 'The trucks? Do you see, girls, buildings there yonder which look so normal. Girls, they are the crematories!' 'Crematories? What does it mean--crematories?' 'Don't you know? There is where all the people went, on the trucks!' We remained standing. We thought she was out of her mind. But from one after another we heard the same story. All who climbed into the trucks are in the crematories. An hour later they showed us a fire which rose from the chimneys. Those are the bodies which burned, they gave us to understand. These old prisoners. And that we could see. We saw it burning, burning intensely. We felt the smell of skin, living skin. We are in the "zaune," in the shearing room. They shear off our hair. As they do it to me, completely. A clipper went over our heads. All the hair from the head. We look at each other. The fright. People are beaten. Hair is being shorn. People scream. The language we don't understand.
  • David Boder: Who was beating you?
  • Henja Frydman: The Germans. One couldn't move without getting a blow. Our hair fell to the ground. We looked at each other. One doesn't recognize faces. I failed to recognize my best friend, and I began to laugh, to laugh terribly, a hysterical laughter. The Slovakian girl who is shearing my hair looks at me. What am I laughing about? I laugh because I can't believe. I laugh because it appears to me that I am not alive, that I am dreaming, that this is a nightmare, that this is not true. And that is only the first day. The hair off--under the shower. A cold, horrible shower. No soap. That coarse German woman, that prostitute, stands and yells, and if one doesn't wash herself fast enough, a blow with a stick. The shower is over. After the shower to dress. We are given trousers. Man's trousers and men's shirts. Worn, dirty. We are also given men's underclothes. There were girls who were menstruating. They did not pay attention to it. Under the cold shower, they were given no things, and so they remained. There is no need to describe how they look. Dressed in rags, and tatters, and these were clothes of Russian prisoners. We even found buttons on these clothes with the hammer and sickle. A kerchief to hide the hair that was absent, and we go to the bureau. The Germans register us. Register our identity, the name, the family name, occupation and nationality, and so on. From there--
  • David Boder: What nationality did you give?
  • Henja Frydman: I gave the French nationality.
  • David Boder: Did you tell them you were Jewish?
  • Henja Frydman: Jewish?
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: They knew that we were Jews. From the bureau again with blows we were led into a block. In the block we met old prisoners, girls. When we come, they ask us what is going on in the country. They told us about the lager. They wondered that we don't know anything, but in 1943 the world doesn't know about the lager of Oświęcim. The world doesn't know that in the year 1942 and 1943 they were burning in Auschwitz thousands and millions of Jews.Information regarding the murder of European Jewry had been known and publicized in the West since the Einsatzagruppen massacres in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. However, the information was under-reported and considered exaggerated by many. The Polish government in exile in London had included Auschwitz in a list of camps where Nazi atrocities were taking place in July 1942, and a Polish resistance message in March 1943 mentioned Auschwitz as one of the camps where Jews were being killed. The western Allies obtained definitive information about the camp as a result of the April 1944 escape of two prisoners, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler. Knowledge of the mass exterminations at Auschwitz prompted a number of successful protests to Admiral Horthy, head of the Hungarian government, to halt transports of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in July 1944. However, the call for the bombing of the camp was rejected by the Allies, who would not even consider the possibility. The passionate debate about whether or not Auschwitz should have been bombed continues, but apart from the question of whether or not it would have succeeded, an attempt to bomb the gas chambers or the railroad lines leading to Auschwitz would have made a significant moral statement.25 People don't want to believe. In the barracks it is already five o'clock. The first thing is the Appell--the Appell or roll-call. We all go outside.
  • David Boder: Did you get shoes?
  • Henja Frydman: Shoes yes.
  • David Boder: Stockings?
  • Henja Frydman: Stockings? No. Large shoes in which one could not walk. In the block there was a block trusty, with servants, and all these were prisoners. The block trusty--
  • David Boder: A Jewess?
  • Henja Frydman: A Jewess. The large number of them were Slovakians
  • David Boder: But Jewish ones?
  • Henja Frydman: Jewish ones, who cannot be complimented very much, because often they were as bad as the Germans. It is a pity, but it is just so. But this is already another chapter. This 'count Appell' lasted exactly three hours. For three hours we were standing and waiting for them to come and count us up. Hungry we were, cold we were, frightened we were, because we saw where we were. To describe exactly what was going on in the lager, I can't. I am telling the truth. I can't. There I saw around me corpses. Girls with tortured faces. Constantly screaming. I did not believe then that I would ever live among people again. I thought that I had fallen into a different world. Completely different world. In my disordered thoughts, I reasoned, maybe, there is more than one world, a world where one lives normally, but that possibly there is also another world, where life is entirely different, and in such a life people also do live. I thought so then because I believed that one could not stand it, that one could not live through Auschwitz. But I had to live through, I must live through to be able to come back and tell to the world what I have seen. I have returned, but to tell it is not so easy. Mornings we were going to work. I will give you now an account of the work. I will tell you what kind of work we did. We got up at four o'clock in the morning. It was dark and cold. At night we couldn't sleep, because we slept eight or ten people on one bed that was four meters wide and four meters long. I don't speak about the food, because we were getting a little piece of black bread of about 200 grams [half a pound] for the whole day. Lice, vermin, as they say in French--were crawling over us as if we were prisoners already a long, long, time. By the hundreds; one could not stand it or sleep at night, so badly were we itching from the lice, the bedbugs, the fleas.
  • David Boder: It is said that the Germans wanted to keep things clean, that they had insecticide powder and so on.
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, that is what they say. We even had in our block delousing sessions. 'One louse, and you are dead.'
  • David Boder: What does that mean?
  • Henja Frydman: One louse, and you will be dead. That is, you had to watch very carefully to be clean. They also would say, 'the one who keeps himself clean' is a human being. And so on.
  • David Boder: A saying. [Footnote: Here the interviewer and interviewee apparently misunderstood each other. She used the word "lausung" designating a delousing session; but she pronounced it like "losung" meaning a slogan or password.]
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, yes. Written in the blocks. I don't know.
  • David Boder: This concludes Spool 31, Henja Frydman. Illinois Institute of Technology Wire Recording.
  • David Boder: Spool 32, August 7, 1946, at 9 Rue de Gui Patin, Paris. Miss Henja Frydman, continuation of Spools 29, 30 and 31.
  • David Boder: And so?
  • Henja Frydman: The work in the lager of Auschwitz. In the year 1943 it wasn't called anymore an extermination camp, but a work camp, and the slogan of the Germans was "work makes free." Our slogan was "Work makes free in the crematories two and three." And our slogan was most correct. As I have already said, we got up at four o'clock in the morning. And that day it was raining. Right the first day we were sent to work. For two hours we were standing for the count-Appell. That means until six o'clock. Five abreast and a capo, a German again, a German prostitute. They had very low elements to manage the lager, because normal people, clean people, would not have been capable of such management. A capo led us to the gate, and again there are standing a whole group of German elite. That German, the lager commandant, the work Fuehrer, and all the company leaders, the German soldiers who were leading us to work and who guarded us. Every soldier was leading a dog, to guard us and watch us. Without a word, just 'left'...'left'...We marched through the gate, and the Germans looked at the women who had arrived yesterday, beautiful and young, and they laughed at the derelicts into which they had been converted in one day.
  • David Boder: Oh, you are speaking of your first day at work.
  • Henja Frydman: At work, yes. If a guard had a chance to hit somebody, he did so. If he had a chance to set the dog on us, he did so as well. One company leader, that is, a German soldier, got out of formation and marched among us, leading us straight. 'Left'...just like soldiers so we shouldn't forget to step first with the left foot and all together. Many women didn't know what it means, 'left'. They were mother of children, and all at once they had become soldiers and did not know 'left'. They paid dearly for it. The punishment was a bad beating. Everyone wanted to march inside the formation, because on the sides one would be exposed to blows. In front one was responsible for the stop. We had to walk very fast. Inside the formation one could escape the blows. The mud was deep and heavy. The terrain was as if made to order for a lager. It was pouring rain, and one could not drag his legs out of the ground. One was unable to walk, especially with those shoes, which were too large. How many kilometers we marched I don't know. About the beatings we were given, about the girls and women, well, I don't have to tell you. People fell, stepped one over the other; there was no time to turn around. It was pouring. The chimneys were on fire at the same time. A German was yelling. Some of us were weeping. They couldn't walk. The shoes were too large, and they fell. What can one do? What should on do? We arrived. I think we walked eight kilometers through a big field. We were ordered to take off our shoes. You know what for? We should not wear out the shoes. We took off our shoes. We were ordered to step into the water. There was a pond, with dirty water. There was a pond, and we had to go into the water up to the head and lift weeds out of the water. What they needed those for I don't know. It really wasn't any work. It was ordered simply to torture us.The kind of work Henja describes was indeed often used at Auschwitz to torture the prisoners and weaken their will to resist by breaking their spirit. In this case, it served as a brutal initiation into the what the prisoners could expect in the camp. They had no rights whatsoever, and the scope of SS power over them was unlimited.26
  • David Boder: Wasn't there any flax in the water with the straw?
  • Henja Frydman: What is flax?
  • David Boder: Those threads that are being grown.
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, yes, that is what we had to pull out. [It is not clear whether interviewer and interviewee really understood each other] . And that we had to pull out.
  • David Boder: You mean the weeds from the pond.
  • Henja Frydman: Yes.
  • David Boder: Go on.
  • Henja Frydman: And if anybody would raise her head from the water, a German pushed her back again into the water with his foot.
  • David Boder: How could anybody keep his head under water?
  • Henja Frydman: We did. You are asking how we could do it. We had our heads in the water. Whether on could not, that's how it was.
  • David Boder: With your mouth under water?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, yes, yes. With the mouth and everything. Yes, the water was high. Clear over the head, especially made, made to order, as we say. When we had picked a large quantity of weeds from the water, we had to carry it out to one side, and then, quick, quick, quick, run back into the water and pull again.
  • David Boder: Well, then you could get your head out from the water, now and then?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, when we were getting out, and that was a happy moment, because we could breathe some air, getting out of the water. How cold we were, I don't have to tell you.
  • David Boder: What month was it, did you say?
  • Henja Frydman: In June,
  • David Boder: In June--well--
  • Henja Frydman: So the day passed until one o'clock, that is, from six o'clock to one o'clock. In the water, with beatings, and they gave us some food.
  • David Boder: But I should like to clear that up a bit. You were told to get into the water. And then you were to pull out the weeds.
  • Henja Frydman: Yes.
  • David Boder: So you had to go in with water over your head. For how many seconds at a time.
  • Henja Frydman: How many seconds? As long as one could keep his head under water. Then one had to pull it out, and one would take out her head, and leave it out until the German would notice the head, and as soon as he would see the head, he would beat her, and a second head would come out--
  • David Boder: Oh, one would stick her head out.
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, and everyone would take a chance to raise her head, because it was impossible to stay that way.
  • David Boder: Yes, go on.
  • Henja Frydman: Our lunch. Standing up, in half an hour, they passed it around.
  • David Boder: So when did you get out of the water?
  • Henja Frydman: At one o'clock. In and out, carrying out the weeds.
  • David Boder: In your clothes.
  • Henja Frydman: In our clothes, yes.
  • David Boder: Without shoes?
  • Henja Frydman: Without shoes, with our clothes, without shoes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: The lunch consisted--
  • David Boder: Only girls?
  • Henja Frydman: Only girls, women and girls. That was the platoon, and the platoon was called Platoon 203. This was one of the very bad platoons, because the division commander who led us was a real sadist. For him life consisted in being able to torture the girls, in general the women as well. If a woman was too stout, he would beat her on the breasts and say to her, 'You, fat one, you must get a bit thinner.' And to the girls he would say, 'You young girls, you want to get out of here. You'll croak here in my place.' And that badly depressed our morale. He had a stick ten centemeters thick. Every day he had another club. He tried on us "all models." He would beat us until one would fall. He would say, 'Finis with Paris, Madame. With Paris it is now over. Now you are in Auschwitz, and you shall work.' And he told us, 'You don't know what we call work. You will learn'.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: The soup--
  • David Boder: So what happened at one o'clock, you got out of the water?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, to eat. We had half an hour to eat.
  • Henja Frydman: No, no. It was brought. There was a detail which brought the food to the place of work. The soup contained various wild weeds, but that didn't matter; we were hungry. We got it in a bowl for six. We ate six from a bowl. I do not speak of spoons, because there were no spoons.
  • David Boder: So how do they eat, six from a bowl?
  • Henja Frydman: We were six, and we picked it up, one at a time, and each one would take a sip, and so in turn.Prisoner solidarity, such as that described here and elsewhere by Henja, was a crucial element in promoting survival. Despite the horrendous conditions they had to endure, many prisoners helped each other.27
  • David Boder: The bowl was passed around?
  • Henja Frydman: The bowl was passed. The bowl was dirty and it was hard, but we ate.
  • David Boder: What was the bowl like? Was it hot?
  • Henja Frydman: The bowl was of iron. They were iron bowls.
  • David Boder: Iron bowls.
  • Henja Frydman: Metal bowls. We had to eat very fast. That was not important. Of course, we did not have our fill, bit we had a chance to stand a bit without bending all the time. That day we ate standing up. The next day we ate on our knees. The third day standing on one leg.
  • David Boder: What's that?
  • Henja Frydman: Well, just in whatever way it would please the platoon commander. To torture us.
  • David Boder: So he made you eat standing--
  • Henja Frydman: Always in a different manner. [Here we hear on the wire violent sneezing. If often happens that when an interviewee speaks of a certain condition that apparently evoked sneezing or coughing, he begins to sneeze or cough. We have that in the Frim spool, when the speaker begins to cough violently in the narrative about the disinfection of the clothes in the gas chamber.] Finished eating in a hurry, again back to work. In the afternoon it was arranged somewhat differently. They took us to the building, an abandoned structure, and we had to tear it up. They gave us a special too [she uses the French word for "crowbar"]--that is, a kind of thick stick.
  • David Boder: An iron one.
  • Henja Frydman: No, of wood, which one holds, together with several others. A group of six girls were holding it. And we strike the stones.
  • David Boder: The bricks?
  • Henja Frydman: The German counts one, two, three, and we have to strike a blow, and every time something must fall down. One has to be pretty strong for that. On that place--
  • David Boder: What kind of building was it?
  • Henja Frydman: A destroyed building, in which I believe some time ago people lived. They were destroying all the houses around the place. Out of the stone of the houses they built the lager. We had to stand and work in the place where the stones were falling, so that the stones would fall on us. One of the girls who stood in front was injured by the stones that fell from the building, and she sustained a fracture. We were ordered--she was laid down, she screamed horribly because she was badly in pain, and we were told to continue working as before. And that is how we worked at the building, in fright and not to forget, under the blows and under the laughter of the Germans, until five o'clock in the evening. Then we fell into formation, got our shoes; one couldn't find her own shoes, one would put on whatever could be found. And back we went to the lager.
  • David Boder: How many kilometers was is?
  • Henja Frydman: Eight kilometers. That day it was eight kilometers. That means coming and going sixteen kilometers. And for all day a little piece of bread and a bit of soup. And under bad weather conditions, because in June the Polish climate is very hot. It is cold in the morning, but in the daytime it is hot. There was no water to drink. It was indeed a good beginning.
  • David Boder: And all this happened the first day?
  • Henja Frydman: All this happened the first day. We came back to the lager again. The "count Appell". Many girls fainted during that time while we were waiting for them to come and count us. After that they gave us our supper, for we were given our food at the "count Appell" at night to carry us over until the evening of the next day. Bread, black bread, of 200 grams, a little piece of sausage, one little round slice, and from time to time, a little piece of margarine. Finally that we could get into our block and stretch out on our bed. I shall speak of my group. We were five girls, nineteen years old, three mothers of children between thirty-five and forty years.Henja's horrifying account of her first day in Auschwitz demonstrates why the average prisoner who was admitted into the camp could not live more than a few months. The exhausting work, starvation diet, painfully long Appels and other sadistic acts resulted in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and turned many prisoners into muselmanner, the living dead. Nevertheless, there were prisoners like Henja who, despite illness, exhaustion, and deprivation, managed to survive through solidarity with others, living one moment at a time, and luck.28
  • David Boder: Were the children with them?
  • Henja Frydman: No, the children either remained in France, if they managed to hide them, or the children were brought to the lager and there perished in the gas,[Footnote: The custom to use the word gas to designate the gas chambers, or gas-killings (German--vergasung) is likely to cause the unaccustomed listener some incidents of discomfort. The word gas means in Yiddish and in colloquial German a "street" (Gasse), the "outdoors." Gehen in gas under ordinary circumstances means: to go out, to take a walk, to look for incidental business to panhandle. It was therefore somewhat difficult to get into the habit of associating the words gehen in gas with their new connotation--to die in the gas chambers. This was especially difficult because the interviewees pronounced the expression with so much fluency and matter-of-factness that it really sounded like they would say "he just stepped out", or "they are out for a walk".] because children were separated from the mother, and they were sent into the gas. [A long pause.] We spoke very little. We were very tired, and we were talking about how it was possible for such things to happen. One is beaten, one starved, people being gassed. We remembered a song that we sang in Drancy, that was a song that came from Dachau, which was composed by the first prisoners of Dachau, and this song was very well suited to the lager.
  • David Boder: How did that song come over to Drancy?
  • Henja Frydman: To Drancy? Through political prisoners.
  • David Boder: What language was it in?
  • Henja Frydman: French. That was translated from the German. Then the song says: 'Far away in some place there are large spaces of bad soil, where the bullets do not sing in the dried up trees. You only hear the steps of the Germans and the rattle of the arms, and only crying and weeping, and no song comes from the lager.' That song indeed described the lager. The tune itself was a good description. It is a very sad tune. We sang that song, and so passed the day.
  • David Boder: What melody was it? [Here she sings the famous song which is on the other spools, and will be inserted here later.]
  • Henja Frydman: These two verses told a lot. 'Death to the one who tries to escape.' And so it was. Not only death to the one who tries to escape, run away, but death to all those who are there. Now I shall start the chapter, the general chapter about the lager. By that I mean, about the psychology of the Germans. Why and how they have led people to the state in which we found ourselves. First of all, they made Jews, old prisoners, responsible for the management of a block. They made the Jewish physicians, the doctors, responsible for selecting the sick from the hospital--because afterward there was a hospital--and sending them into the gas. They made Jews responsible for management of the work. They [the Germans] only had to receive their reports and to see to it that their orders were complied with. And that is why we saw Jews beating Jews, and that is why we hear now that bandits have come out of the lager. That is, the Germans have made bandits out of the Jews. They led them into a situation in which they had no time to think. There was no such thing among us as thinking. We did not think. I don't say. I personally was fortunate not to have any responsibilities. I was just a common prisoner. I was not hated like the prisoners who had responsible positions. A Jew would beat a Jew, because Germans were strict, and the German would beat the Jew who did not want to beat another Jew. Jews worked in the crematories, which means that Jews have been burning their own kindred, because the first day when they came to the lager they would be assigned to such positions, and the Germans looked on, and ordered them to start fires and to burn.The SS employed a system of "prisoner self-administration" throughout the camp system. Yet one should be cautious in stereotyping the Jews who served as capos and in other responsible positions in Auschwitz. Many acted in the way Henja describes. They were cruel and ruthless. Yet there were some who sought in various ways to alleviate the plight of the prisoners and engage in different forms of clandestine resistance.29
  • David Boder: Of course, they burned only the bodies.
  • Henja Frydman: They burned the bodies, yes. They burned the bodies because, before the people went through the gas chambers, they told the people that they were going bathing, that they were going to take a shower. And these gas chambers, according to a report from a friend I have who worked there, looked exactly like a shower bath. Little holes for the water to come through, but instead of water would come through gas. And in this way the people were destroyed. And from there to the crematories, like into a bakery. The system went like this. There was room in the furnace for three people, a stout one, a thin one, and a very thin one. And those three people were shoved in, and they burned. And so the crematories were arranged. They were in Birkenau, six crematories, which have been working day and night with interruption.In Birkenau, there were four crematoria which had the capacity to burn 4,416 bodies on a daily basis.30 [Pause]. I shall not continue in order. I shall speak about the things that pass now through my thoughts. I was in Krankenburg. That is, the hospital--one may call it a "hospital". I was sick with typhus, spotted typhus, and pneumonia in addition. I was for three months in a hospital. You may ask why I was three months in a hospital. Well, they did nothing to heal us. I survived the three months of the hospital just due to my character. I was not far from death. I did not look like a human being anymore. Only my thoughts were still human. I was thinking about getting away. My fever was 40-41 degress C. It wasn't possible to stand it. All at once the Germans came in and ordered that the whole hospital be sent into the gas, all the sick. They said that otherwise we might infect the whole lager; and we were registered, and we were expecting that trucks will come to take us to the gas. I thought that I would not let them take me into the gas. I had in the lager a girl friend whose name was Molly Zinnenbaum [??], from Belgium. She was a messenger."Molly Zinnenbaum" is actually Mala Zimetbaum, an Auschwitz heroine, who at the age of twenty arrived in Auschwitz in 1942 on a transport of Jews from Belgium. Mala became a courier and an interpreter in the camp due to her fluency in several languages. As Henja's experiences illustrate, Mala, despite the risks, went to great lengths to help fellow prisoners. Mala met a Polish prisoner named Adek Galinski, and the two fell in love. With the help of the camp underground the pair escaped in June 1944. Mala was the first woman to successfully do so. However, they were recaptured and returned to the camp. Henja relates what occurred to Mala subsequently. Adek also died defiantly. What role Mala played in securing Henja's position as a "nurse" in the camp "hospital" is not stated. This indoor job was another factor in Henja's survival31
  • David Boder: A what?
  • Henja Frydman: A messenger. That is, she had a good job in the lager, which consisted of making lists of the people in the hospital who should go to work in the lager. She was in contact with the woman lager manager, the German, and she did a lot for us, and she saved me from the gas. She said that I was her cousin, and that if I am being sent to the gas, she should be, also. And since the Germans needed her in their work, I was excluded from the list, and I was out of that. There followed two or three more of such moments, and the same Molly saved me. The same Molly was shot in Birkenau in the lager where I was because she escaped from the lager. She escaped in '43 or at the end of '44 [??]. She was the first Jewish girl who made an attempt to escape. For fifteen days she was at liberty. Then unfortunately she was caught. She was brought back to the lager, and on the square--it was ordered that all Jewish girls should assemble on the square--and that Molly would be shot. We all assembled. Molly was standing before our eyes, pale. And the woman lager leader made a speech. She said...
  • David Boder: This concludes Spool 32. We are in the moment of the execution of the girl who saved the speaker's life twice.
  • David Boder: Spool 33. This is a continuation of Spool 32. The interviewee is Miss Henja Frydman. She was in the midst of telling a story about her friend who saved her life several times and was now to be executed.
  • David Boder: And so, Miss Frydman, tell us again about the girl who helped you, while you were sick with typhus. What was her name?
  • Henja Frydman: Her name was Molly Zinnenbaum. As I was telling you, we assembled on the square of the lager.
  • David Boder: She had escaped?
  • Henja Frydman: She had escaped and for fifteen days she was hiding in Poland. Then she was returned.
  • David Boder: How did they find her?
  • Henja Frydman: A Polish prisoner had arranged for her identification papers. The Germans had various methods. The Polish girl was beaten, and she reported that Molly was located in such-and-such a place.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: So it was. Molly had indeed hid there, and she was found. And she was returned to Auschwitz and held in a bunker, where she was kept for six weeks.
  • David Boder: What is a bunker?
  • Henja Frydman: A bunker in Auschwitz is a small room where one hardly can sit down; one cannot stand up, one cannot move, and one cannot see anybody. She was many times taken out of that bunker and interrogated. I cannot tell you exactly her story about her stay in the bunker, because we had no more opportunity to talk to Molly. She had no more contact with us. We found out the same day that she was caught, and soon she was returned to the lager. And it was as I told you before. We were assembled together after work in the lager to see what can happen to a human being who displeases the Germans. The woman lager leader made a speech, and in this speech she told us that the prisoners who applied themselves to their work were being well treated by the Germans. But those who betray the Germans--there are no words, it means treason [??]. But Molly did, and we all knew what was awaiting her. Present were the work service of the lager commander, and the whole top authority of the Germans. After the speech Molly was to be executed. The work service leaders approached Molly and wanted to tie her hands. And all at once one sees that blood is flowing from Molly. What has happened? Molly knew what was in store for her. She provided herself with a razor blade and the moment when the Germans wanted to hang her she cut her arteries on the hands.
  • David Boder: Oh.
  • Henja Frydman: So that she not be shot [shot seems to be used as a synonym for killed.] by German hands.
  • David Boder: Shot or hanged?
  • Henja Frydman: Hanged, by German hands. The work service leader approached her. He wanted to stop the bleeding, but Molly slapped his face. A commotion spread over the lager. For the first time we saw a Jewish prisoner raise his hand against a German. The feelings of the German work service leader cannot be described. He was red and did not know what to do. Quickly they took the cart, a little push cart in which we carted sand, and they threw Molly in it. She was tied up and carted to the hospital. It was impossible to stop it.
  • David Boder: The bleeding?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, and since the Germans wanted to shoot her [again meaning apparently to kill her] before she died by her own hand, she was taken in this state to the crematory, and there she was shot by the chief of the crematory, Moll.The murderously effective SS master sergeant Otto Moll was transferred to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 to supervise the efficient running of the machinery to exterminate the tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews being transported there. He became head of the gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau. After the war, in November 1945, Moll was tried and executed.32
  • David Boder: Do you know what happened to Moll? Was he arrested?
  • Henja Frydman: [After a long pause] According to what I have heard, Moll was arrested. Whether it is so, I do not know.
  • David Boder: And that all happened in Auschwitz?
  • Henja Frydman: All that happened in Birkenau and Auschwitz.
  • David Boder: And how long did that all last?
  • Henja Frydman: [Speaking at the same time] And that is the end of Molly's story.
  • David Boder: How long were you in Birkenau?
  • Henja Frydman: I spent two years in Birkenau. Right up to liberation.
  • David Boder: So. And who liberated you?
  • Henja Frydman: The Russians.
  • David Boder: Tell me, how did this liberation occur?
  • Henja Frydman: I remained in the hospital with the sick. By that time I was a nurse. The Germans laughed and still told us that they would come back to take us, to evacuate us, because the Russians were approaching. Three days passed and we saw no Germans. We remained in the lager by ourselves. All around the different lagers were burning, because the Germans set fire to them so that nothing should remain to show that a lager had been there. The crematories they blow up with dynamite, and the crematories blew up, and what remained were just stones. We remained in the hospital, overcome by fright. A few of us there were in good health. There I was with my group. All of us that remained, out of sixty, was ten, and that was considered a very high percentage. We remained because we constantly kept together and kept up contact with each other.
  • David Boder: And then, how did the Russians come?
  • Henja Frydman: [Simultaneously] I was belonging to a group that held us up. When the Russians came, they immediately cut the wire and received us with great respect. The soldiers who liberated our lager proved to us that there are still human beings in this world, not just beasts. That was after two years in the lager, the first contact with human beings, with real human beings. They immediately set up order in the lager, arranged things, brought doctors to help the sick; and by and by, those who could return home, that meant those from Poland, the Polish, because there were not only Jews, but also Polish women--
  • David Boder: What do you mean, 'there were not only Jews'?
  • Henja Frydman: There was a lager for non-Jewish prisoners. Aryans, and a large number of Poles among them.Poles were the first prisoners incarcerated in Auschwitz. Some 75,000 perished there.33
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: We remained in the lager, since we were nurses, to help the Russians with the sick. I remained with them for three months. I worked as a nurse, I worked and--
  • David Boder: Did they pay you?
  • Henja Frydman: They-no, they gave us to understand that during the time until we could be sent home we ought to remain with the sick. We understood each other well, and we remained. After three months we were liberat--we were sent to Kattowitz and from Kattowitz to Odessa.Katowice was the provincial capital of upper Silesia and was located not far from Auschwitz. After the war, it was indeed a gathering point for Jewish refugees. From Katowice, it was a long journey to the Russian Black Sea port of Odessa from where Henja embarked on her voyage to France.34
  • David Boder: Odessa?
  • Henja Frydman: Odessa, yes.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: And from Odessa to France.
  • David Boder: By boat?
  • Henja Frydman: By boat. By an English boat.
  • David Boder: How many were you? French women and men?
  • Henja Frydman: There were many of us. There were people in Kattowitz from various lagers. That was a point of concentration.
  • David Boder: How did it look in Odessa?
  • Henja Frydman: I personally haven't seen any of Odessa. I went directly into the hospital.
  • David Boder: Why? Were you sick?
  • Henja Frydman: Because I was sick. I had mastoid trouble.
  • David Boder: Oh, were you operated on in Odessa?
  • Henja Frydman: I was not operated on in Odessa, because all the medical people, all the surgeons, were mobilized to the front. And so I was operated on upon my return to France.
  • David Boder: You were operated on in France? Where was the operation?
  • Henja Frydman: On the left side.
  • David Boder: Your left ear?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes.
  • David Boder: Are you completely well?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, completely well.
  • David Boder: Can you hear with your left ear?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, very well. I got well immediately, because I had a very good doctor.
  • David Boder: And so you returned to France?
  • Henja Frydman: To France.
  • David Boder: Well, what did you find there?
  • Henja Frydman: In France I did not find anybody. My parents were deported four months after my deportation.
  • David Boder: Did you know it?
  • Henja Frydman: That I already knew in the lager, because by some chance I met a girl friend, an acquaintance, who was in the same transport with my parents. She told me that my father, my mother, and my brother had arrived with that transport and got into the trucks.
  • David Boder: They came to the same lager?
  • Henja Frydman: Also to Auschwitz. To the same lager.
  • David Boder: But--
  • Henja Frydman: I even found in the lager a photograph of mine that was brought there by my parents.
  • David Boder: So. How did you find that?
  • Henja Frydman: This was found in the division which received the people upon their arrival, their things; and among the things it happened that one of them recognized me and showed me that picture.Henja is speaking about a section of the camp known as "Canada" where some 600 female prisoners sorted the belongings stolen from those arriving at the camp. Though all the valuables were supposedly the property of the Reich, SS men regularly stole items from "Canada," thus personally profiting from them. This was but a part of the corruption that pervaded Auschwitz.35
  • David Boder: A prisoner?
  • Henja Frydman: A prisoner. I understood immediately that these were my parents who had come, because nobody in France had my picture, since I belonged to the Resistance. Only my parents would have had my picture. And that is how I learned that they had arrived and went directly into the gas.
  • David Boder: How old was your brother?
  • Henja Frydman: My brother was twenty-two years old.
  • David Boder: And he was taken with the parents?
  • Henja Frydman: With the parents?
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Henja Frydman: As I figure it, he did not want to separate himself from the parents.
  • David Boder: So.
  • Henja Frydman: And he remained together with them. My parents hoped, I believe, all through their journey, to see their daughter. But it did not happen that way.
  • David Boder: What are you doing now in France?
  • Henja Frydman: I arrived, and I immediately started to work.
  • David Boder: In what line?
  • Henja Frydman: I was one of the first Jewish deportees from France who returned, and upon my arrival there was already formed a union of Jewish deportees.
  • David Boder: French, or all?
  • Henja Frydman: All of them, without exception, and I have been working with this union since I have returned.
  • David Boder: Is this a job? Do you earn something?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes. I am getting 6,000 francs a month as a secretary. [At the black market rate this was about $30.00 a month.] As a secretary I work ordinarily just like any other secretary, but my work, or course, isn't like in any ordinary office.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: But I work here because it gives me something to do.
  • David Boder: Can you live on 6,000 francs?
  • Henja Frydman: No, one cannot live on 6,000 francs, but still one lives on what he has. Many people in France do not earn more than I do, and they live. One adapts himself to any conditions. It is not hard for me, because anything is good for me, because now I have liberty. Of course, it isn't what I expected, because I returned and there was no home; there are no parents. My brothers, whom I loved dearly, are no more. So life doesn't mean much now. I often wonder why I got out, and why they remained there. But one should not talk; it doesn't help. Everyone understands what it does to a person's heart to lose his parents in such tragic times, because we know that when a person dies his own death, nothing can be done. That is a matter of nature. But when one knows that the parents have gone into gas, that is very hard; it is very hard to bear such a thought.As Henja notes, liberation for the survivors was bittersweet. They regained their liberty but were forever scarred by their painful experiences and losses. Like so many others, Henja experienced survivor guilt, questioning why she survived while so many others perished.36
  • David Boder: What are you planning to do? Tell me, what are you planning to do in general? Are you going to stay with the union, or do you intend to learn something?
  • Henja Frydman: I regret very much that I could no continue with my studies because--
  • David Boder: What were you studying?
  • Henja Frydman: Literature. I was an especially great student. I took my examination of "maturity"[Footnote: "Maturity examination" or Matura is equivalent to an examination for admission to the university, or to about the sophomore level of American colleges.], because I always like literature; I was interested in it. I regret now that I don't have the time.
  • David Boder: And you want to remain in France?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes. I shall remain in France, because where else could I go? And I have nothing.
  • David Boder: Have you relatives in America? Or in Palestine?
  • Henja Frydman: I do have--in Palestine I have two sisters.
  • David Boder: You have two sisters!
  • Henja Frydman: Two sisters, who are married and have children. Also a brother, who served in the English army for five years; for four years he was a prisoner of the Germans. They are in Palestine and want me to come over there. I should like to go to see them, but to remain there--I do not believe so. I have started life here. I do not feel anymore like traveling around and wandering around. My ideal has remained the same, to fight against Fascism, together with all those who were tortured up to now, the Spanish, the Jews, and many other peoples, because we are not the only people who suffered. Oh yes. We have suffered more than others; that is true. We have a more difficult task, but what does it matter where one fights, as long as it is a same idea?
  • David Boder: Are you a Communist?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes, I am, and I believe I shall remain one.Henja's ideological commitment played a role in her survival by bolstering her will and spirit. It gave her a motive for surviving: to live in order to build a more just and humane world and to take part in the ongoing struggle against fascism.37
  • David Boder: Is there a strong Communist movement in France?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes. A very strong one.
  • David Boder: Is it the same movement as in Russia? What do the communists here in France demand?
  • Henja Frydman: [After a long pause] The Communists in France--really one shouldn't say the Communists.
  • David Boder: Why not.
  • Henja Frydman: I should say the working class.
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: Intellectuals, the students, demand, as the whole world knows, just what all the workers in the world demand: to live like human beings. And for that they will fight to their last drop of blood, as they have been fighting up to now. We have found each other again, and together we continue working. Those who have remained [survived], with those who have remained "there", those who have formerly been with the Resistance--
  • David Boder: And so--
  • Henja Frydman: [Continuing]--to improve the life of the people and to improve one's personal life, a young person should be able to study, if he wants to; the working man should be allowed to work and earn a living, not to live just for food, and worry from morning to night about what he will be doing tomorrow. Justice, that is what we want. A human way of life.
  • David Boder: Tell me, what on an average does a worker earn now in France, per month?
  • Henja Frydman: Little. The working man who works in a factory and is specialized earns from eight thousand to ten thousand francs a month. And to live normally, and that means not to starve, to have what the body demands, you need at least fifteen thousand francs a month per person. And that he doesn't have.
  • David Boder: I know typists and officers who make twelve or thirteen thousand a month.
  • Henja Frydman: No, they are great specialists or somebody working in a commercial field, an office of a business where the owner earns an awful lot. Then he pays as much as he pleases. But the normal price is eight--between six and eight thousand francs.
  • David Boder: Now for instance, a woman who sits in the metro and punches tickets. What does she earn?
  • Henja Frydman: Very little. I believe between four and five thousand francs a month.
  • David Boder: Four to five thousand francs a month! Not much. Do you have relatives in America?
  • Henja Frydman: I have a cousin of my mother's in America.
  • David Boder: Have you written to him?
  • Henja Frydman: No.
  • David Boder: [After a pause] Do you want to say something else? What would you want to tell the students in the United States?
  • Henja Frydman: [After a long pause] I would tell the youth of America, in the first place, to see to it that the world, and America itself, which at present occupies the first place among countries of the world, and which could finance all Europe, should keep on fighting. They should not forget what has happened during the recent years. They should do everything to keep those years from returning, because it is very easy for such things to return.The oft-repeated message of the survivors is that the unthinkable and unimaginable happened and that it can happen again. Therefore human society must strive to prevent future genocides and be alert to their warning signs.38
  • David Boder: Do you believe that Fascism could return?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes.
  • David Boder: How could that happen?
  • Henja Frydman: Fascism can return if the world does not become once and for all--honest, and if the people of all countries do not hold together. I can only say that up to now things are not going right.
  • David Boder: How long did you work with the Russians?
  • Henja Frydman: Three months.
  • David Boder: Well, how did things look there? What are your impressions of the Russians?
  • Henja Frydman: I can't give you broad impressions, because I was, as I told you, in the hospital; and so I can't tell you because I have nothing to say. I saw only one thing, that the people, the individuals with whom I talked, were great patriots, and great men as well. This I did see. I observed them when they worked with us. I saw them working at night. They were working very hard, but they like their life.
  • David Boder: Didn't they complain about the Bolsheviks?
  • Henja Frydman: Oh, no, nobody complained. On the contrary, they had a bit of an ironical attitude toward the Europeans.
  • David Boder: Yes?
  • Henja Frydman: Yes.
  • David Boder: Why?
  • Henja Frydman: Because--
  • David Boder: What was it, what was the reason for the irony?
  • Henja Frydman: Ilya Ehrenburg recently told us in Paris, to understand, with his personal irony, that in Russia maybe not everybody has his automobile, and he is making in many of the other things that they have, for example, in America, but he has a lot of other things. He has ideas; he is deep. And that is true.Ilya Ehrenberg (1891-1967) was a renowned Jewish Soviet Russian writer and journalist. Ehrenberg's loyalty to the Stalinist regime remained firm despite its terroristic actions. However he was a staunch opponent of Nazism and during the war was the Soviet Union's foremost anti-Geman ideologist. He survived the murderous Stalinist purge of Jewish artists during the "Black Years" of 1948-1953, though he never forsook his Jewish identity. After Stalin's death in 1953, Ehrenberg became a key spokesman for Soviet intellectuals seeking liberal reforms and an outspoken opponent of Soviet anti-Semitism.39
  • David Boder: Yes.
  • Henja Frydman: The Russian man is deep. He thinks a lot. He thinks during the nights.
  • David Boder: Did you hear Ehrenburg before he went to America or after his return.
  • Henja Frydman: After he came back.
  • David Boder: Tell me more, what did he say?
  • Henja Frydman: He liked America very much, but he is very proud of Russia. I think that is enough.
  • David Boder: Yes. [A pause.] Well, this concludes Miss Henja Frydman's fifth spool. The records are from Spool 29 to Spool 33, up to nearly twenty-six minutes of the last spool. She was very cooperative. She gave me a whole morning and part of the afternoon. But apparently she is a bit tired and thinks she has said enough. Well, I thank you very much, Miss Frydman, and hope you will be happy in the future, and that you will have success with your ideals and with your work. This concludes the interview. Illinois Institute of Technology wire recording from Spools 29-33. August 7, 1946. I thank you very much, Henja. [Here she says, in a low voice, something I cannot make out on playing the wire back. Apparently she is standing away from the microphone.]
  1. Henja is referring here to her family who lived in Paris. Subsequently, she reveals that she has three other siblings, two sisters and a brother, living in Palestine at the time of the interview.
  2. In 1924, when Henja was born, Pinsk was in eastern Poland. Today it is part of Belarus. Between the two wars, anti-Semitism and the economic downturn caused by the Great Depression led to large scale Jewish emigration from Pinsk.
  3. Henja's brother was most probably arrested in round-up of foreign born Jewish males in Paris in August 1941.
  4. Drancy was administered by the French from August 21,1941 to July 1, 1943, after which it was run by the Germans until August 17, 1944. The collaborationist Vichy regime greatly facilitated German rule in France.
  5. The language pattern noted here by Boder might have been linked to the stress experienced by the interviewees in recalling their traumatic experiences, the tension caused by the interview process, and the time interviewees spent with persecuted victims of other nationalities.
  6. This is precisely what occurred immediately after the liberation of the concentration camps. Many of the newly freed inmates became sick and died due to the effects of the sudden change in diet, which their weakened bodies could not handle.
  7. The emotions Henja experienced here and elsewhere when talking about her family illustrates how attached she was to her parents and two brothers, and how deeply felt their loss was for her.
  8. In 1942 Auschwitz was in fact both a concentration and extermination camp, and remained so until the fall of 1944 when Heinrich Himmler ordered the dismantling of its gas chambers and crematoria. Subsequently, of course, inmates continued to die from other causes. The sign Henja is referring to might have been the cynical, ironic sign, "Arbeit Macht Frei" ("Work Sets You Free").
  9. The reference here might be to the greeting for those entering hell in Dante's Inferno: "Abandon Hope All You Who Enter Here."
  10. Namely, in the introduction and footnotes to these interviews.
  11. The French communist resistance movement was energized by the German invasion of the Soviet Union on June 21, 1941 and the abrogation of the Stalin-Hitler Pact. Although Henja was at first in a specifically Jewish section of the communist resistance (which contained a number of Polish-born Jews), she indicates that her section later merged with the general communist resistance movement. The acronym for the military branch of the communist resistance was FTP-MOI.
  12. Family solidarity helped those persecuted maintain their morale, but it also inhibited active resistance. Young adult children were concerned about their parents and wanted to protect and shelter them as much as they could, rather than undertaking risky actions against the enemy. Later in the interview, Henja reveals that family solidarity inhibited escape attempts from the deportation train.
  13. It is unclear whether or not the concierge knew that the French police were waiting for Henja in her room and failed to warn her. It is, however, indisputable that Vichy's anti-Semitic policies could not have been carried out without the complicity of countless ordinary French citizens. The official post-war French view, which divided French men and women into a majority of heroic resisters and a minority of cowardly collaborators, is untrue.
  14. It appears that the inspectors who arrested Henja were from the section of the French police designated to investigate political subversion rather than the special anti-Jewish police force created by the Vichy government. The French police had records which helped in their identification of suspects.
  15. The post-war calumny that the Jewish of France meekly accepted their fate is refuted by Henja's account. Henri Michel, a respected historian of the French resistance, estimated that some 25% of the French Jewish community was involved in resistance work, a far greater percentage than that of the general population.
  16. After mid-November 1942, the food and general living situation at Drancy improved from what they had been at the beginning of the camp's existence with the help of French Jewish organizations.
  17. Despite difficult conditions, Jewish religious and cultural life was maintained at Drancy. Engaging in study, giving moral and psychological support, and dancing and singing to lift spirits should be considered as forms of resistance. Subsequently, Henja relates that when she and others were deported to Drancy they were singing.
  18. Alois Brunner, one of Adolf Eichmann's chief assistants, assumed command of Drancy on July 2, 1943. Before coming to Drancy he had helped deport Jews from Vienna, Moravia and Greece. Once installed at Drancy, Brunner removed the Vichy-appointed camp commander and ran it with the help of SS officers. His rule was characterized by a marked deterioration of conditions for the inmates and concerted efforts to deport imprisoned Jews to Auschwitz. After the war Brunner disappeared. He was not tried at Nuremberg, but was tried in absentia in Paris in 1954 and sentenced to death. However, he was eventually granted asylum in Syria and lived there for many years under an assumed name. Brunner was never brought to justice.
  19. This feigned solicitousness towards the victims was typical of Nazi deception. Later Henja recounts how upon the arrival of her transport at Auschwitz, the SS asked those who were old or weak to board trucks which would take them into the camp so they wouldn't have to walk. The trucks went straight to the gas chambers. It is unclear who the "he" to whom Henja refers might be.
  20. A number of the survivors, Elie Wiesel among them, had to wait for a period of time to write about their experiences in order to gain sufficient perspective and the emotional and psychological ability to recount them.
  21. "Auschwitz" is in fact German. The "bathing suits" Henja describes were probably in fact the striped prisoner uniforms worn in Auschwitz.
  22. Henja was imprisoned in Auschwitz from the end of June 1943 until her liberation by the Red Army on January 27, 1945. Indeed, ordinary language cannot begin to convey the horrors of the deepest circle of the Nazi hell or what has been called "planet Auschwitz."
  23. Prayer shawl in Hebrew is Tallit; pl. Tallitot.
  24. Henja's decision not to remove the tattoo on her left arm was prompted by her desire to bear witness to what she had endured and to remind the world of the evils of Nazism. It was the imperative to bear witness which helped strengthen her will to live in Auschwitz. But the tattoo was also a painful daily reminder of all that she had suffered and all that she had lost.
  25. Information regarding the murder of European Jewry had been known and publicized in the West since the Einsatzagruppen massacres in the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. However, the information was under-reported and considered exaggerated by many. The Polish government in exile in London had included Auschwitz in a list of camps where Nazi atrocities were taking place in July 1942, and a Polish resistance message in March 1943 mentioned Auschwitz as one of the camps where Jews were being killed. The western Allies obtained definitive information about the camp as a result of the April 1944 escape of two prisoners, Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler. Knowledge of the mass exterminations at Auschwitz prompted a number of successful protests to Admiral Horthy, head of the Hungarian government, to halt transports of Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz in July 1944. However, the call for the bombing of the camp was rejected by the Allies, who would not even consider the possibility. The passionate debate about whether or not Auschwitz should have been bombed continues, but apart from the question of whether or not it would have succeeded, an attempt to bomb the gas chambers or the railroad lines leading to Auschwitz would have made a significant moral statement.
  26. The kind of work Henja describes was indeed often used at Auschwitz to torture the prisoners and weaken their will to resist by breaking their spirit. In this case, it served as a brutal initiation into the what the prisoners could expect in the camp. They had no rights whatsoever, and the scope of SS power over them was unlimited.
  27. Prisoner solidarity, such as that described here and elsewhere by Henja, was a crucial element in promoting survival. Despite the horrendous conditions they had to endure, many prisoners helped each other.
  28. Henja's horrifying account of her first day in Auschwitz demonstrates why the average prisoner who was admitted into the camp could not live more than a few months. The exhausting work, starvation diet, painfully long Appels and other sadistic acts resulted in feelings of helplessness and hopelessness and turned many prisoners into muselmanner, the living dead. Nevertheless, there were prisoners like Henja who, despite illness, exhaustion, and deprivation, managed to survive through solidarity with others, living one moment at a time, and luck.
  29. The SS employed a system of "prisoner self-administration" throughout the camp system. Yet one should be cautious in stereotyping the Jews who served as capos and in other responsible positions in Auschwitz. Many acted in the way Henja describes. They were cruel and ruthless. Yet there were some who sought in various ways to alleviate the plight of the prisoners and engage in different forms of clandestine resistance.
  30. In Birkenau, there were four crematoria which had the capacity to burn 4,416 bodies on a daily basis.
  31. "Molly Zinnenbaum" is actually Mala Zimetbaum, an Auschwitz heroine, who at the age of twenty arrived in Auschwitz in 1942 on a transport of Jews from Belgium. Mala became a courier and an interpreter in the camp due to her fluency in several languages. As Henja's experiences illustrate, Mala, despite the risks, went to great lengths to help fellow prisoners. Mala met a Polish prisoner named Adek Galinski, and the two fell in love. With the help of the camp underground the pair escaped in June 1944. Mala was the first woman to successfully do so. However, they were recaptured and returned to the camp. Henja relates what occurred to Mala subsequently. Adek also died defiantly. What role Mala played in securing Henja's position as a "nurse" in the camp "hospital" is not stated. This indoor job was another factor in Henja's survival
  32. The murderously effective SS master sergeant Otto Moll was transferred to Auschwitz in the spring of 1944 to supervise the efficient running of the machinery to exterminate the tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews being transported there. He became head of the gas chambers and crematoria in Birkenau. After the war, in November 1945, Moll was tried and executed.
  33. Poles were the first prisoners incarcerated in Auschwitz. Some 75,000 perished there.
  34. Katowice was the provincial capital of upper Silesia and was located not far from Auschwitz. After the war, it was indeed a gathering point for Jewish refugees. From Katowice, it was a long journey to the Russian Black Sea port of Odessa from where Henja embarked on her voyage to France.
  35. Henja is speaking about a section of the camp known as "Canada" where some 600 female prisoners sorted the belongings stolen from those arriving at the camp. Though all the valuables were supposedly the property of the Reich, SS men regularly stole items from "Canada," thus personally profiting from them. This was but a part of the corruption that pervaded Auschwitz.
  36. As Henja notes, liberation for the survivors was bittersweet. They regained their liberty but were forever scarred by their painful experiences and losses. Like so many others, Henja experienced survivor guilt, questioning why she survived while so many others perished.
  37. Henja's ideological commitment played a role in her survival by bolstering her will and spirit. It gave her a motive for surviving: to live in order to build a more just and humane world and to take part in the ongoing struggle against fascism.
  38. The oft-repeated message of the survivors is that the unthinkable and unimaginable happened and that it can happen again. Therefore human society must strive to prevent future genocides and be alert to their warning signs.
  39. Ilya Ehrenberg (1891-1967) was a renowned Jewish Soviet Russian writer and journalist. Ehrenberg's loyalty to the Stalinist regime remained firm despite its terroristic actions. However he was a staunch opponent of Nazism and during the war was the Soviet Union's foremost anti-Geman ideologist. He survived the murderous Stalinist purge of Jewish artists during the "Black Years" of 1948-1953, though he never forsook his Jewish identity. After Stalin's death in 1953, Ehrenberg became a key spokesman for Soviet intellectuals seeking liberal reforms and an outspoken opponent of Soviet anti-Semitism.
  • Contributors to this text:
  • English Translation : David P. Boder
  • Footnotes : Elliot Lefkovitz