Photo on left: Henry F., age 17, in the town of Gliwice, Silesia, 1945 - approximately one year after he was liberated.
Photo on right: Henry F. with his wife Sandra in 2006 in Seattle.
Henry Friedman was born in 1928 to a Jewish family in Brody, Poland . Ten years later a classmate told him, “Wait until Hitler comes. He’ll take care of you!” In 1939 when the Russians occupied Brody and his family lost its business and many of their private possessions. After the Nazis invaded Brody in 1941 they swiftly deprived Jews of their basic rights. They forbade Jews to attend school or teach and forced them to wear armbands bearing the Star of David. The police once caught Mr. Friedman’s mother without her armband and beat her so badly she could not raise her arms for a month.
One day in February 1942, a young Ukrainian woman, Julia Symchuck, ran to the Friedmans' house and warned Henry's father that the Gestapo was coming for him. Mr. Friedman’s father was thus able to flee in time. Jews not forewarned were sent to camps to be put to work or murdered. These round-ups, called “aktions”, sent 4,500 Jews to the Belzec death camp and were the prelude to the final order in the fall of 1942: the remaining 6,500 Jews in the area were to move into a small ghetto in Brody. In October, 1942, the Friedmans themselves were ordered to move into the ghetto. As a result, they went into hiding in the village of Suchowola where two different Ukranian families helped them. Mr. Friedman, his younger brother, mother and their female teacher went to a barn owned by Julia Symchuck's parents and moved into a tiny space about the size of a queen-size bed. Mr. Friedman’s father went to a separate hiding place, half a mile from the Symchucks’ barn that belonged to an old acquaintance. From May to June, 1943, they learned that the Nazis were liquefying the ghetto in Brody. Most of the Jews in the ghetto were sent directly to Majdanek death camp.
For eighteen months, the Friedmans remained in hiding, freezing cold and slowly starving as food became scarce. Finally, in March, 1944 the Russians liberated Suchowola and the Friedmans.
Later, Julia Symchuck was recognized as one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem and was reunited with Mr. Friedman in Seattle in 1989.
The excerpt below is from The Seattle Times, July 14, 1989:
Julia Symchuk tried to keep a stern expression when she saw Henry Friedman, the Seattle man her family had once sheltered from the Nazis.
But when the Ukrainian woman who had flown here saw him, his wife, children, and grandchildren, she burst into tears, fell into Friedman’s embrace, and buried her head in his shoulder.
The two were reunited at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport last night. Friedman had seen Symchuk last year for just a few hours in her village in the Ukraine and had arranged for her to visit the United States."I am so excited that she is coming here to see my family; I’m just flying," Friedman said before she arrived. Forty-seven years ago, the 17-year-old Symchuk worked as a maid for the conquering Germans in the Ukraine. One day, as she was sweeping the police station, she overheard Gestapo plans to arrest Friedman’s father.
"She ran from the station and to our farm and warned my father," Friedman, 60, said. "She would have been killed if anyone found out." Symchuk, who spoke Russian to an interpreter, said her mother and Friedman’s mother decided the Symchuk family would hide the Friedmans. And they did.
For 17 long and frightening months the Friedman family hid in the Symchuk’s small house. Symchuk’s mother slipped what little food she could to the Friedmans.
Even when the Germans carted Julia and her brother off to a work camp – the camp where Julia’s brother was to die – the Symchuks stayed silent. "It was very hard for us, and it was very scary," Symchuk recalled. Of the 15,000 Jews who lived in the area in 1940, only 100 were left alive after 1944.
"It was the most horrible kind of slaughter," Friedman said. The Friedmans and the Symchuks had been acquainted for some time. They lived near each other in the small village of Suchowola. Hiding Jews, however, was never a popular cause.
"There was a lot of anti-Semitism there," Friedman recalled. "It didn’t affect them, and it saved our lives."
The anti-Semitism was so strong that the Friedman family waited 47 years to thank Symchuk. Friedman’s father, afraid that the Symchuks might be harmed by lingering anti-Semitic resentment, died without revealing the name of the family.
When Henry Friedman returned to his village last year, he remembered only the first names of the people who hid his family and followed a mental map drawn when he was a boy almost 50 years ago to the small village where he remembered being hidden. There he found Julia Symchuk.
"I knew who she was right away, and there was just an incredible feeling in my heart," Friedman said. Sitting at the airport last night, with his grandson on his left knee and his right arm around the diminutive Symchuk, Friedman smiled broadly and praised the Symchuk clan. "A heart of gold," he said. "They just had a heart of gold."
Henry Friedman is also profiled in the Holocaust Center's "Stories Among Us" traveling exhibit and "Survivor Voices" which includes video clips of Henry's testimony, photographs, and a map. He is on the Board of Directors for the Holocaust Center and is a member of the Speakers Bureau.
If you are interested in reading more about Henry Friedman’s story, his biography, I’m No Hero: Journeys of a Holocaust Survivor, is available at the Holocaust Center for Humanity, at your local bookstore or library, and online.