My name is Yechiel Michoel Friedman. I was murdered in Auschwitz and don’t you ever forget me.
This speech was delivered by Benjamin Brafman, Esq. on Yom HaShoah.
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 tonight, but this is not his speech. It is my speech. My grandson speaks 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.
Well, I speak tonight to tell you that my little Chayala did matter, we all mattered.
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.
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, Hnda, 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.
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.
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 six 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.
(To be continued)