I did not survive – I was murdered at Auschwitz.
My name is Yechiel Michoel Friedman. I was "murdered" at Auschwitz. I did not die at Auschwitz. I was "murdered" at Auschwitz.
None of you know me. None of the people in this room have ever met me; not even my own grandson, Ben Brafman, who many of you know, has ever met me. I have authorized my grandson to speak for me, because although I was murdered, I was not silenced. You must be reminded of my life and of my murder – not my death – my murder. The murder of my family – of your family – of so many families...
This is my story – a true story. A sad, horrific story.
My story, like so many of your stories, has a wonderful beginning, a very terrible middle and a tragic, horrible end that Baruch Hashem was not really the end, because although I and part of my family were brutalized and murdered, a part of my family miraculously survived – and because some did survive, my grandson is here to speak for me, to tell you "my" story, his grandfather's story, my life story and my death story. The story of a life that was brutally taken from me, from my beautiful wife, Malka, my beautiful, sweet daughter, Sima, her young, handsome husband, Yaakov and their baby, my granddaughter, my "first" granddaughter, Chaya Sarah, my little Chaya Sarah, who at two years old was ripped screaming from her mother's arms and thrown into an oven at Auschwitz as if she did not matter.
I speak to tell you that my little Chayala did matter, we all mattered.
Nazi killers murdered my Chayala and 1.5 million other Jewish children.
Chaya Sarah was the only grandchild I ever knew and I loved her as only a grandfather can love a grandchild and Nazi killers murdered her, my Chayala and 1.5 million other Jewish children. They took our nachas – our life and our joy and our hope. They took our babies and turned them into ashes.
Today, I speak to you as a neshama, as a soul from heaven, where I and millions of my brothers and sisters sit in a special place of honor reserved for us, for those you call Kedoshim – holy ones – whose lives were taken only because we were Jews, brutally taken less than 70 years ago, when a whole country became dominated by savages, while a civilized world stood by and through its silence, said that it was "okay to smash the head of a two year old child and then, while she was still alive, throw her screaming in terror into a burning oven, that it was okay to gas and cremate – to murder her parents and grandparents." A civilized, cultured nation did this and a civilized world watched it happening and did nothing to stop our slaughter.
The world heard our screams but did not care, the world smelled our burning flesh but turned away – the world heard my Chayala screaming for her mother and did nothing, because Chayala was a Jewish child and at that time – the systematic murder of Jewish children – undertaken in an efficient, organized manner by monsters in government-issued uniforms -was okay. Indeed, it was encouraged, applauded. The murderers were honored with medals, applauded as heroes for killing our children – for killing my grandchild.
Smoke and Gas
How did this happen to us? When did our world turn so bitter and dark?
I remember our life before Auschwitz, a good life, a quiet, pious life, centered around my family, my wife, Malka, our daughters, Sima, Ruchele, Hencha, Hinda, my sweet little boy, Meir, Sima's husband, Yaakov, and their baby, my zeis little Chayala.
We lived in a small town in Czechoslovakia, Kiviash, right near the Hungarian border. I was a learned man, a Hebrew teacher. Our family was a good family. We were poor, but respected. We were honest, kind, sweet people who lived among other respected, soft-spoken, wonderful families. We had no enemies.
I never even raised my voice in anger, never, until that day in Auschwitz, when they murdered my grandchild, then the world heard me, but did not listen, when they tried so hard to destroy my family. I screamed so loud, I cried so hard and long, but the murder continued. The smoke and gas roared and now I am still angry. Now, I raise my voice again, not to complain, but so that you will remember – so that you can wake up, because what happened to my family can happen again, it is happening again!
Today, less than 70 years later, monsters are again threatening and murdering Jewish families, murdering our beautiful children – just last month in Israel, in Itamar, the Fogel family was massacred and again, beautiful, little, innocent children were butchered because they were Jews.
Udi and Ruth Fogel murdered because they were Jews! Their children, Yoav, age 11, Elad, age 4 and Hadas, age 3 months – slaughtered!! Their throats slit while they slept in their own beds.
You must know the terror, not only to make you sad and angry, but to make you vigilant.
So I need to tell you about my own murder. I need to relive for you my horror, my terrible loss, so that you will understand and remember, so that you will feel the Shoah – what the world refers to as the Holocaust. It needs to be real for those of you who were not there. It is more than a word – Shoah. You must know the terror, not only to make you sad and angry, but to make you vigilant.
If I upset you tonight, good! If my frankness and the terrifying description of brutal murder gives you nightmares tonight – good. I want you to be afraid and sad and angry and bitter and aware – but I also want you to be proud, because the end of my own story, although sad, was not the end.
Be comforted in the knowledge that "they did not win." The Nazi murderers killed me and millions of Jews like me, but they did not win. They did not murder my whole family, or your whole family. The murderers and their army of monsters did not murder the Jewish people, they did not end Klal Yisrael – they made us stronger.
Jews are alive today. Israel is strong today, my family, your families, are here today, and we must keep reminding the world about our parents, grandparents, great grandparents and the children, who were gassed and cremated.
My family is alive today to help you understand the quality of hate that can allow a country to burn and gas and bludgeon newborns, infants and toddlers; to machine gun them and throw them into mass graves or onto trucks and then while still alive, toss them into large ovens, or used while conscious and awake – for vicious, cruel medical experiments.
So many children, small Kinderlach screaming for their Mommy and Tattie, for Bobbie and Zayde – can you hear them? Their screaming is so loud – I can still hear my Chayala, 70 years later. Can you hear them? Can you hear your family members? The families you never got to meet or know. Can you hear their screams?
When you are in bed waiting to fall asleep, listen hard. If you try, you will hear them in your head and in your heart.
Listen and you will also hear 12-year-old Tamar Fogel who, returning to her home in Itamar, after an Oneg Shabbat Friday night, only a few weeks ago, found her parents murdered, her three month old baby sister, Hadas, with her throat slit. Can you hear Tamar screaming? All of us, all the way up here in Heaven heard her screams; you should be able to hear her just across the ocean, her screams for her family, for every Jew whose child – whose life has been viciously taken just because they were Jewish.
It is almost impossible to imagine so much murder and torture and starvation, but you must.
The difficulty in speaking about such horror and about so much grief is that it is so hard. It is almost impossible for the mind to process so much terrible information, it is almost impossible to make someone understand something so bad, it is hard to even imagine so much murder and torture and starvation, but you must.
I will help you. I am going to be graphic and brutal, because it is the only way to make you get it, for you to really understand what it means when we say Holocaust – or Shoah – or talk about 6 million kedoshim.
I am standing in the gas chamber naked with hundreds of innocent Jews. My wife, Malka, whose terrified eyes were already dead, is next door holding our daughter, Sima. Sima's husband, Yaakov, is with me. We have already watched our Chayala cremated. We are already dead – the gas will just kill us again.
We know we are not in a shower. We know we are in a gas chamber. We know we are going to die and we all know that we did nothing wrong and we also know that a civilized world did this to us, that a civilized world abandoned us.
We are afraid to die, of the brutal, choking, burning death that is upon us, but we are so much more afraid that nobody will ever know that we lived, that nobody will ever know that we were a good family; that we had beautiful, good children and that we had a beautiful grandchild. I was so afraid that nobody would ever know; that nobody in my family or in anyone else's family would survive; that the "final solution" was really going to be final. Let me tell you something....
You think you know about prayer – you think you know about faith because you are religious or because you pray every day?
Let me tell you about real prayer, about real belief – in my gas chamber, as gas filled our lungs, as flames burned off our skin, we screamed "Ani Maamin,” we believe in you Hashem.
With our dying breath we screamed, "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad" – my last words screamed through gas filled lungs, as I died, so afraid that my entire family had been, or soon would be, murdered.
What wrenching sadness, what anger rose in my heart and raged through my mind – I pleaded to Hashem, not to be spared, but for nekama, for revenge! How, when, who would ever make this right, or get even for us, who would be alive to say Kaddish for us – to light a candle on our Yahrzeit – no graves, no headstones – no one alive to mourn our death – to even know of our life.
Well, I am not here tonight in person. Yechiel Michoel Friedman was murdered at Auschwitz, but we were not all murdered that day, or the next day and some of my children, some of your children did survive and today, our children, our grandchildren, our great-grandchildren and now even our great-great-grandchildren are alive. We live in the United States and all over the world as proud Jews, and we have the Land of Israel – do you hear that, Nazi murderers? We have Israel, a nation built by survivors. We have a Jewish army and a Jewish state. Our people are strong. We have powerful, eloquent voices demanding to be heard.
My daughters, Hencha and Hinda, who were tortured for years, did not die and my daughter, Ruchele, who at age 15 escaped to America, married Shlomo Brafman, who also escaped – they did not die and their children and my grandchildren and great-grandchildren are growing up as Shomer Shabbos Jews and tonight, my grandson is speaking for me in a shul with 1,000 proud, strong Jews who came to remember all of us tonight.
I do not have my life, but I have my revenge.
So I do not have my life, but I have my revenge. In fact, my little boy, Meir, who they tried so hard to murder, he lived too. At age 16, he weighed 45 lbs. when found alive in a pile of corpses at Auschwitz.
When liberated, he went to Israel, to Israel, where for 50 years he was a soldier in Tzahal – Israel's army. A Jewish hero, he fought for 50 years in Israel's army. My son, my Kaddish, he did not die in Auschwitz either. How proud I was to watch as he put on the uniform of an Israeli soldier to fight for our country, a Jewish community.
They Will Not Win
I am very sad and very angry and bitter that I did not get to enjoy the world of nachas that was mine, a world of nachas and pride and Yddishkeit that I had a right to live through and enjoy.
The Nazis hurt me beyond words, but they did not win.
Ladies and gentlemen, they only win if you forget – or now, if you allow the world to deny. They only win if we do not cry real tears when we hear about the slaughter of the Fogel family in Itamar.
They only win if you cannot hear my Chayala screaming or feel the terror of Tamar Fogel, or her grandparents who must now face a quality of grief so savage that it is hard for you to grasp.
Trust me – I know about the murder of a child and a grandchild and how that impacts on everything else. How everything else is forever shrouded in death and overwhelming sadness. The Fogel family will never recover but they cannot be forgotten.
Here we are in a beautiful shul, with so many Jews. Good Jews. Strong, proud people who have not forgotten us, me, my family, your families – the parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, the children, the grandchildren – the babies who were murdered and gassed and buried alive.
It is okay to cry for what we lost, for what was taken from you, for the lives lost, the nachas of family we were deprived of.
Cry for us. We cry for you too, for what you lost, for the family you never met, for the millions of good, sweet Jews who did not live – for the students who never finished their studies, for the scientists and artists and musicians and teachers and Rebbes who never got the chance to excel, to perform, to teach, to cure, to live.
It's okay to cry for the children who never got to play, or sing, or laugh, who were put to death with such violence, with so much hatred that I cannot describe it in words as for certain levels of grief, there are no words. It is so bad that it cannot even be imagined by any decent human being, impossible to process rationally.
But you must, because today, people are already questioning whether the Holocaust really happened. World leaders and scholars are already denying the Holocaust; they are challenging even the integrity of a handful of survivors, the eyewitnesses who are still alive, those who saw the horror with their own eyes. Even these heroic survivors are being doubted and am so afraid that in coming years, vicious, anti-Semitic revisionists will tamper with history and the truth and we cannot – you cannot allow that to happen ever – never...
If our memory is really to be for a blessing, then you must remember.
I had a granddaughter, a charming, beautiful little baby girl named Chaya Sarah and she was murdered in front of my eyes and although her neshama, her soul, is in heaven with me, her memory must be emblazoned in your hearts forever.
If our memory is really to be for a blessing, for our neshamos to really have the aliyah you ask for, an aliyah we have earned and paid so dearly for, then you must remember.
You must make certain that your children and their children understand what happened to their family, to your family, to all of our families, or it will happen again.
You think it cannot happen again? Why? Because you have good lives – you live in civilized times? We had a good life – we lived in civilized times. We were happy and complacent, but we were not vigilant and we walked right into a Holocaust.
Our neighbors, an entire nation of ordinary men and women of intelligence and breeding and culture turned into monstrous, murderous animals who withdrew from humanity and imposed a level of brutality on us that cannot now be described and could not then, ever have been predicted – but that is exactly what happened.
It was even worse than the worst true story that any survivor can report, because the brain is not capable of capturing so much grief without exploding, so even those who survived, who saw it all, cannot fully capture the full horrific ordeal, the vicious detail.
Only a victim like me, only someone who did not survive, can tell you the whole, bad, ugly, demented, terrible truth about our murder, of 6 million murders.
That, my friends, is why I chose to speak to you through my grandson from my seat in heaven and although Hashem does not permit me to tell you "why" these terrible things happened, I am commanded to discuss "what" happened.
To tell you "what" happened with clarity and force, so that hopefully some people in this room will never doubt the Shoah and you will take it upon yourself to confront anyone who dares to deny it and make them hear my story – your story, the sad but true stories of our families, whom we too often refer to as the "6 Million," but rarely if ever refer use their names.
We have names. Our lives were taken, but they cannot take our names.
My name is Yechiel Mechoel Friedman. I was murdered at Auschwitz with my wife, Malka and my daughter, Sima, her husband, Yaakov Weiss and my granddaughter, Chaya Sarah.
Can you see them? I see them and I also see Tamar Fogel and the bodies of her family being carried through Itamar for burial; not 70 years ago – last month. People with names and lives taken in the dark – only because they were Jews.
My name is Yechiel Michoel Friedman. I was murdered in Auschwitz. Don't you ever forget me.