Steve Pruzan's grandparents and his mother fled Germany in 1939, and made their home in the United States.
Steve Pruzan’s grandparents, Max and Helene Schlonau, owned a large farm in Germany. They had owned and operated the farm at Warmsen, Germany for many generations. It was a gathering place for family who lived nearby. His grandfather, Max Schlonau served in World War I. He studied agriculture, enlarged his land holdings, used the most updated agricultural methods, and invented a breeding method for cattle. He was a leader in the area and in the small Jewish community in Warmsen.
Max and Helene married in 1923 and Steve’s mother, Inge was born in 1924. After 1933, when Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, things got progressively more difficult for the Schlonaus. Inge had to take a 5 hour train ride to Hanover in order to go to school as Jewish students were not allowed in German schools. Max was arrested on Kristallnacht and held at Buchenwald Concentration Camp for 3 weeks until his wife paid a fine to get him released.
By 1938 they had made plans to leave Germany. Helene had a cousin who was already settled in Seattle, Dr. Hans Lehmann. Lehman provided the Schlonau’s with an affidavit, and with Max’s agriculture experience, the family was able to expedite the visa process. They sailed from the Netherlands on September 1, 1939. The Schlonaus settled in Seattle where Dr. Lehmann was a prominent physician.
Steve’s mother, Inge attended Seattle University and graduated with a degree in nursing. She married Howard Pruzan, a Seattle attorney.
Steve is a practicing attorney in Seattle. He shares his family’s story as a member of the Speakers Bureau.
Ron Gompertz tells the story of his father, Rolf Gompertz. Ron is proud of his family heritage, and decided to research his father’s story so that he could help reach students who were studying the Holocaust. Ron tells his father’s story through video clips of his father telling about his own life, along with photos and documents that accompany his family research.
Rolf was born in Krefeld, Germany in 1927. Krefeld served as a hub for surrounding Jewish communities. Before 1933, there were 1,500 Jewish people living there. In 1933, when Rolf was only 6, the Nazi Party gained power in Germany.
Rolf’s memories include the fateful night of Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938. Nazi soldiers banged at the door of his parents' apartment demanding to be let in. They stormed into the apartment ready to arrest Rolf’s father. Rolf’s father ran into his office and pulled out his Iron Cross medal for valor in World War I.
Luckily, this time the Nazis left, but 30,000 Jewish men were arrested in the next few days.
The Gompertz family was fortunate to find a distant relative in Los Angeles who provided them with an affidavit to sponsor the family. They arrived in Los Angeles in June of 1939, just a few months before war broke out between Germany and Poland and deportations of Jews began.
Rolf entered the United States as a refugee. He started school in sixth grade barely speaking English, but grew up to be a journalist and author. He returned to Krefeld in 1987 to tell his story to adults and students. Rolf has also told his story to students in Los Angeles.
Rolf is very proud that his son, Ron, has decided to continue his mission of educating students about the Holocaust as a member of the Holocaust Center for Humanity Speakers Bureau.
Ron himself works in the Seattle area in the tech industry. In 2017, he published the novel Life's Big Zoo.
In Memoriam: Holocaust Survivor Herbert Friedman. It is with sadness that we announce the passing of Holocaust survivor Herbert Friedman on October 1, 2020 in Maryland. He is survived by his wife, three sons, 7 grandchildren and 3 great-grandchildren. Herbert’s son, Ron Friedman is a Holocaust Center for Humanity Board member, Legacy Speaker, and longtime supporter.
If you would like to make a tribute in memory of Herbert Friedman please consider a gift to the Holocaust Center for Humanity. You can make a gift online here or send a check to Holocaust Center for Humanity, 2045 Second Ave. Seattle, WA 98121.
Ron Friedman is the son of Herbert Friedman, born in 1924 in Vienna, Austria.
“It is important to remember an event such as the Holocaust. It is a reminder to us all of the evils of bigotry and humiliation of others. Unfortunately, there are many holocausts in the world — both big and small — which have occurred since, and continue to occur. And it is left to ensuing generations to resonate the lessons of history.” – Ron Friedman
Herbert Friedman escaped from Vienna at age 14 aboard the Kindertransport. This event, and the ensuing years before Herbert’s emigration to America, were the defining moments of his life.
Herbert's family traveled from Radom, Poland to Vienna in the early 1920s. At the time, Jews played a central role in Viennese culture.
Herbert had a happy childhood. He attended public school during the day and Hebrew school at night. His mother stayed at home, and his father worked as a shoemaker. They lived in an apartment in a middle class neighborhood of Vienna and Herbert had many friends, Jewish and Christian. Herbert loved to swim, including in the Danube River in Vienna, known for its strong currents. At the age of 12, Herbert and another youth saved a young women from drowning in the Danube.
In March 1938, Austria fell under Nazi occupation and became part of the German Republic and the lives of all Jews came under threat. Herbert was immediately expelled from school by the Nazis, and Jews all over the region suffered. A particularly brutal act of anti-Jewish violence occurred in November 1938, Kristallnacht , when Jewish shops were smashed and looted, synagogues burned, Jewish businesses dissolved, and hundreds were arrested and taken away, never to be seen again.
Following Kristallnacht , Herbert knew there was no future life for the Jews of Vienna and he resolved at the age of 13 to escape. Through a series of unlikely events, Herbert was able was to meet an organizer of the short-lived Kindertransport (Childrens’ Trains) and to become a passenger on the first train of ten that left Vienna. The Kindertransport is credited with saving 10,000 children in Europe from facing a certain death in the gas chambers of Europe. Only 10 trains escaped before the Nazis ended the Kindertransport . Herbert was lucky to be among them. In the end, 1,500,000 children are estimated to have died in the Holocaust. Nine out of 10 of the children who were fortunate enough to have escaped on the “Kindertransport” never saw their parents again. Herbert took refuge in England throughout the war years, and was extremely lucky to have his family join him there before all immigrated to the U.S.
The pre-war years in Vienna and the Kindertransport were the defining moments of Herbert’s life. They affected him through courageous service in the U.S. Army in both WWII and the Korean War, raising a family, and successful career as a pharmacist.
Ron Friedman is now a second generation speaker and an attorney in Seattle.
Randee Kissinger's mother was a cousin of Vera Frank Federman's husband. Vera was born June 27, 1924. She grew up in Debrecen, Hungary as an only child, but with a large extended family. She studied both English and German and graduated from a girls’ high school.
On March 19, 1944 the Nazis occupied Hungary and soon thereafter deprived Jews of their civil rights. The Nazis, assisted by the Hungarian Arrow Cross, forced Jews out of their homes, businesses, and schools and into ghettos. Vera and her family, including her best friend and cousin, Marika Frank, were rounded up into the Debrecen ghetto along with the remaining Jewish population of their town. After several months in the ghetto and doing forced labor in a brick factory, they boarded cattle cars to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. It was June 27th 1944, Vera’s 20th birthday.
Vera was in Auschwitz for six weeks before the Nazis sent her to a munitions factory in Allendorf, a sub camp of Buchenwald, where she was a slave laborer. American forces liberated her there on March 28th, 1945. When Vera spoke later about this factory, she said that whenever they could, she and her friends did not fill the bullets with gun powder.
Vera was the only surviving member of her immediate family. After the war, she came to Seattle on a scholarship from the Hillel Foundation to attend the University of Washington. She married Marvin Federman and had two children.
Vera was a member of the Holocaust Center’s Speakers Bureau for many years. Vera passed away in 2017.
As a relative of Vera’s husband, Randee was always interested in Vera’s story . After Vera passed away, Randee decided that she wanted to tell her cousin’s story to students in the Pacific Northwest. Utilizing two testimonies by Vera at the Holocaust Center, Randee and the Center worked to develop a presentation using Vera’s video clips. Randee is currently a teacher at Maywood Middle School in Renton, WA where she teaches the Holocaust. She became a member of the Speakers Bureau in 2018.