Edith Friedman's story - Memory makes us free

Edith Friedman’s story

“I remember it was the beginning of March 1942.

It was walking through the village that we saw that poster stuck on the walls of the houses. It invited, or rather, ordered all the girls to go to school on March 20th for a job, we were Jewish, and we couldn’t go to school.

It all started two years earlier, when the Germans had annexed our country, Slovakia. It was at that moment that they began to persecute us Jews.

No school and education over the age of 14, just think about it, they even stopped us from having cats in the house. 

I was 17 when I read that poster. It was for unmarried girls between 16 and 36. I remember that Mama Henna did not want to lose me and my 19-year-old sister Lea for an unidentified “three-month contract in a factory to produce boots for the troops”. 

She then gave in and packed a bag of our things. For us girls, the prospect of going abroad meant getting out of that nightmare that our president, Jozef Tiso, had plunged us into.

He, who asked for nothing better than to give a good impression to the Nazis.

Foto ritraente Adolf Hitler mentre stringe la mano a Jozef Tiso
Photo of Adolf Hitler shaking hands with Jozef Tiso

For two years he had subjected us Jews to the most unfair measures. No business management and no children at school, no hospital care, the curfew and that damn yellow star. After the propaganda about how we were thieves, rapists, and child murderers which people gradually started to believe.

We were about 200 local girls when they packed us on that train crammed with other girls from other places.

It was difficult to climb onto the train with skirts, so why were they beating us ? At that moment I did not understand.

And then the arrival.

The work camp was in Poland, in the town of Oświêcim. We understood it wasn’t a business trip as soon as we got off the train. When they took away all our luggage, they stripped us naked (what an embarrassment for us girls) and they branded us with a serial number.

Those were not even the worst things. In search of hidden jewels, they subjected dozens of girls to a gynaecological “inspection”. We had arrived in the camp of Oświêcim. Perhaps you do not know it by this name. In German it is called Auschwitz.

We Slovak deportees were 999. I do not know what value it had for Himmler; he did nothing at random. 999 girls forced to work hard as land reclamation, to transport soil and building material or to dismantle buildings, all with their arms alone.

Nella foto, sono presenti alcune delle 999 ragazze mandate ad Auschwitz
In the photo, some of the 999 girls sent to Auschwitz

We lived in a big shack. No lights, no heating. We slept on a layer of dirty straw. Ten toilets for 999 girls. Little water, but there were pipes dripping so you could lick.

Crying so much drained us that we collapsed exhausted at night.

My name is Edith Friedman.

I had the number #1970. My sister Lea who was before me the number #1969.

The daily portion of food was  600 calories.   Few calories and a job that consumed us so, the girls began to die. Many were my friends.

In the photo Lea and I are on the right.

Nella foto,Lea ed Edith

Lea was assigned to the team to clean the ditches. Her feet in water all day made her sick.

Not being able to swallow the bread I gave her my soup every day. But the fever was too high.

I was the one who kept her standing during roll-call.

Then Lea stopped eating. That morning it was terrible when I did not see her in her usual place. I began to ask: «Where is my sister? Where is Lea?». Someone told me they took her to block 25.

During the night I managed to enter and see her.

She was curled up on the floor with a high fever in a coma.

I had to leave her to go back to work. I came back the next morning but block 25 was empty. There were 8232 girls in Birkenau in those days and they were branding number 26.273.

Poor Lea.”

Edith Friedman, then seventeen, dreamed of becoming a doctor; Lea, her 19-year-old sister, wanted to become a lawyer. On 27 January 1945, of the 999 Slovak girls, only 40 returned.

Few of them found their family.

It took Edith Friedman six weeks to return home. With bone tuberculosis contracted at Auschwitz. Years later she learned that the Slovak government had paid the Nazis 500 Reichsmarks (about 230 euros today) for each girl to be sent to Auschwitz as a slave.

Author Heather Dine Macadam interviewed four of the five living women who were part of that Jewish transport to the death camp. One of them is Edith Friedman.

The interview and the historical reconstruction are in the book “The 999 women of Auschwitz”

Story from the Twitter channel Johannes Bückler  

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