The Daugh­ter of Auschwitz: My Sto­ry of Resilience, Sur­vival and Hope

  • Review
By – December 19, 2022

Unlike many oth­er accounts of Holo­caust sur­vivors, Tova Friedman’s book pro­vides read­ers with a child’s per­spec­tive of Auschwitz. At the age of six, Fried­man was one of the con­cen­tra­tion camp’s youngest survivors.

Her mem­oir begins with the chaos right before the lib­er­a­tion of Auschwitz, when Nazi sol­diers set fire to many build­ings and destroyed sev­er­al cre­ma­to­ri­ums in a last-ditch effort to hide evi­dence of their atro­cious war crimes. Fried­man recalls being inside a children’s bar­racks while gun­fire and explo­sions rained around her. Her moth­er appeared just in time to save her. 

Fried­man then flash­es back to her mem­o­ries grow­ing up in the Jew­ish ghet­to of Tomaszów Mazowiec­ki in Ger­man-occu­pied Poland. She was born in 1938, just two months before Kristall­nacht, to young par­ents — Reizel and Machel — who were artists, Zion­ists, and intel­lec­tu­als. Fried­man writes about a child­hood of mal­nu­tri­tion; extreme trau­ma and star­va­tion were reg­u­lar expe­ri­ences. She found safe­ty under her family’s kitchen table, where she played and lis­tened to the con­ver­sa­tions of adults, often pick­ing up on cat­a­stroph­ic infor­ma­tion about mas­sacres and the strug­gle to find food. She wit­nessed fam­i­ly mem­bers being shot and killed and neigh­bors tak­en away, nev­er to be seen again. In oth­er words, she became accus­tomed to uncer­tain­ty and dan­ger, which has affect­ed the way she relates to the world ever since.

Through­out her mem­oir, Fried­man includes excerpts from her father’s arti­cles and eye­wit­ness accounts record­ed in a Yizkor book. She writes, “ … every Euro­pean Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty erad­i­cat­ed in the Shoah has a Yizkor, a book of remem­brance … a post­war attempt by sur­vivors to recon­struct and hon­or the his­to­ry the Ger­mans tried to wipe out.” Such writ­ings serve as a pow­er­ful sup­ple­ment to Friedman’s child­hood per­cep­tion of events.

There were many times when Friedman’s life could have end­ed (in a cat­tle car trans­port­ing Jews to Auschwitz, adult Jews could not believe that there were still Jew­ish chil­dren alive). Yet over and over, her atten­tive­ness, luck, and her mother’s direct instruc­tions saved her life. At the end of the war in 1945, there were only 200 sur­vivors from Tomaszów Mazowiec­ki (out of a Jew­ish pop­u­la­tion of 13,000 in 1939) and only five were chil­dren, includ­ing Tova Friedman.

In lat­er chap­ters, Fried­man recalls the years after lib­er­a­tion, when she returned to Tomaszów Mazowiec­ki, then lived in a Dis­placed Per­sons camp for Jew­ish refugees before immi­grat­ing to the Unit­ed States and lat­er to Israel. Her sto­ry is one of con­stant dan­ger and fear, but it is also a tes­ta­ment to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

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