I have read many books about the death camps of WWII. However, I think this one, The Daughter of Auschwitz, demands to be read. It is the story of Tova Friedman, who was born in 1938 in Tomasźow Mazowiecki, Poland and spent her childhood living first in a Jewish ghetto, aged two and three years old, and then in various camps before ending up aged five years old in Auschwitz aka Birkenau extermination camp.
“We were trapped in a living nightmare. In a nightmare, nothing makes sense; everything is scrambled and unpredictable. So was our war.”Tova Friedman after a beating by a Nazi female officer. She was only 5 years old at the time
Tova Friedman survived. She was one of only five children from Tomasźow who survived the Holocaust. However, at what cost? Tova spent her childhood surrounded by fear and hatred. She was so young that she did not understand why being born Jewish meant she was so hated by those that weren’t Jewish that all they wanted to do was beat and torture them and ultimately kill them. She had no childhood as we know it, no toys and no friends to play with, but she had the love of her mother, Reizel. This love was so strong, and ultimately, the truth she always told Tova and the skills she taught her are the ones that kept Tova alive.
When you read this book, you will walk in Tova’s shoes though she rarely had any. And you will get angry, which is what Tova wishes. To this day, she wonders how she survived being murdered as soon as she arrived in Birkenau. Nearly all of the two hundred and thirty thousand children were murdered within hours of dismounting from the cattle cars. The Nazis had no use for children. They were a hindrance. But more than anything, they represented the future of the Jewish people.
Birkenau was liberated by the Russians on 27th January 1945. Hence this is the day chosen as the annual Holocaust Memorial Day.
However, Tova Friedman’s unforgettable story does not end there. Both her parents also survived. Her mother and Tova returned to Tomasźow, where they were greeted with hostility by the Polish people. It was then that Reizel learned all 150 of her relatives had been murdered by the Nazis.
Of all the ironies, they then had to move to Germany, to the American sector in Berlin. Tova had to learn a new language as her mother vowed they would never speak Polish again. Aged eleven, Tova and her parents moved to New York, and life did not get any easier. This part of Tova’s life is not entirely happy.
They all suffered from their memories and never felt they really belonged in New York. Again Tova is having to embrace a new language and integrate into her new school. Tova was having to learn to be happy and to enjoy life, but of course, whilst she was the light of her parent’s life, she felt terrible guilt that her mother, in particular, was suffering from depression and from intense headaches due to the beating around her head that she received in Birkenau.
Tova says she personally does not suffer survivor’s guilt but rather, as she calls it, survivor’s growth.
This unforgettable and very moving story offers so many lessons, and I am so grateful that Tova Friedman has shared it with us. I have bought this book for my daughters as Tova’s story needs to be retold so that people understand what humans are capable of. In the prologue, Tova tells how a survey of young Americans that was commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany and published in September 2020 showed that two-thirds of the people interviewed had no idea how many Jews died in the Holocaust. Almost half couldn’t name a single concentration camp or ghetto. Twenty-three per cent believe the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated. Seventeen per cent said it was acceptable to hold Neo-Nazi views.
We must never let this sort of ethnic cleansing be repeated; racism must be stamped out. Nevertheless, we all know countries where discrimination is prevalent and perhaps even tolerated. For Tova, watching Russian troops invade Ukraine must have reignited so many memories.
Please read this story and share it with as many people as you can. We owe it to Tova and to all the remaining survivors and the six million who did not survive.