Last Thursday two Holocaust survivors visited Echo Horizon School in Culver City and spoke with fifth- and sixth-graders about their experiences in 1940s Poland, Czechoslovakia and Germany.
Joseph and Helen Freeman met in 1940 while living under Nazi occupation in the Jewish ghetto in Radom, Poland. The couple was torn apart by circumstance and separately endured forced labor, sickness and terror in Nazi death camps over five years.
When Helen was liberated from Auschwitz in 1945 by Russian and American soldiers, she was overwhelmed. “At first I did not believe them. They had to repeat it many times … ‘You are free.'”
She returned to Radom, searching for family or friends. For many days, she found no one. She returned to her neighborhood, but her community was gone. “I had doors slammed in my face … I felt like an orphan,” she recounted.
Wandering confused through the streets of their hometown, Helen and Joseph found one another. Joseph had narrowly escaped execution on his harrowing journey through concentration camps, a “death march” and, more than once, being left for dead. The couple recounted to the students how their faith had played a large part in their survival.
Shortly after reuniting, the couple was married and moved to Munich. Helen described dealing with the discomfort of living in post-war Germany. She explained, “We signed up to be sponsored in America or Australia, but had to wait for six years.” They emigrated to the United States in 1951 and now live in Pasadena.
After the talk, many students asked the couple about their experiences. Some students shared their own families’ stories-grandparents who had survived the Holocaust, but not wanted to talk much about it. Joseph explained, “It is because we relive this pain when we talk about it … but it is important to talk about it.” Both in their 90s, the Freemans know their time to share these stories firsthand is finite.
Members of the school’s Video Club recorded the talk. The video account will be archived at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C.