I am grateful to Poles, they saved me: Holocaust survivor

“I try not to let my negative memories hurt me too much. I have a lot of affection and gratitude for Poles and for Poland, because Poles saved me,” Holocaust survivor Halina Friedman told Polish Press Agency (PAP). On Wednesday and Thursday, Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - is observed in Israel.

During the Yom HaShoah ceremony, organised by the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem, on Wednesday evening she lit one of the six torches - symbols of the six million victims of the Holocaust.

Although she did not speak during the ceremony, Halina Friedman told PAP that she would like to pass on the ethos of memory about the Holocaust to future generations, so that it "would remain eternal, that it would be sanctified, that those who could not speak would not be forgotten".

Halina Friedman was born in Łódź in 1933 as the only child of Wolf and Anna Herling, who were prospering merchants. When Germany invaded Poland her family fled to Warsaw. However, at the end of 1940, the Warsaw ghetto was closed, and her family was locked inside it, where they lived in one apartment with the family of Anna's sister.

"The memory of hungry people in the streets and bodies carried out on carts has always remained with me," said Halina in her memoir posted on the Yad Vashem website. Wolf and Anna were hired in a factory that repaired uniforms for the German army and Halina went to a kindergarten created for workers' children.

One day in the summer of 1942, during the Great Action to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto, she survived the childrens’ execution, because she fell down, although not injured and laid for hours among dozens of killed children. At night, after the Nazis left, she returned home.

On the eve of the Passover in 1943, the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto broke out. A young Pole, Jerzy Koźmiński, smuggled food into the ghetto through sewers. Jerzy bribed an SS officer who had brought a car to smuggle his family out of the ghetto. Family members were led out of the ghetto in pairs, in the trunk of a car. Halina's parents were the last to leave, but were caught as a result of denunciation. Wolf managed to escape, but Anna was transported to Auschwitz.

For about 18 months, Halina and other family members were hiding in the house of Jerzy and his stepmother Teresa Koźmińska, later Ruth (Reni) Linder. Koźmińska would bring them bread once a week, so they don’t starve.

Jerzy Koźmiński and his stepmother Teresa saved her father, aunt and uncle with whom she was hiding, her mother's cousin and brother. “My mother died in Auschwitz because a Jewish policeman had handed her over. At one point, four more people joined us, including my uncle's brother and his wife, when their hiding place was burnt down and they had to flee,” she recalled.

In 1965, Jerzy and Teresa were recognised as Righteous Among the Nations.

The worldwide initiative of awarding the title of Righteous Among the Nations to those who helped Jews in the darkest moment of their history was started by the Yad Vashem Institute in 1963. People recognized as Righteous receive a medal and a certificate, and their names are commemorated on the Wall of the Righteous. There is a sentence from the Talmud on the medal: "Whoever saves one life, saves the whole world".

Until January 1, 2020, 7112 Poles were honored with the title of Righteous Among the Nations, including Władysław Bartoszewski and Irena Sendler.

In 1950, Halina Friedman emigrated to Israel. For 35 years she was a volunteer of the Eran organisation, trained hundreds of volunteers in relief organisations and supported disabled soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces.