Frieda Gola-Weinreich was born in Lodz, Poland in July of 1924. She grew up in an observant and loving household as the youngest of 6 children. Frieda enjoyed a normal and happy childhood in Lodz where she attended a Jewish all-girls public school and dreamed of one day continuing her studies to pursue accounting. It was only months after her fifteenth birthday that the security she formerly knew was shattered as Poland was invaded by the Nazis and her neighborhood in Lodz which boasted a large and thriving Jewish population was quickly transformed into the Lodz Ghetto. Frieda along with the Jews of her city watched in fear as their beautiful synagogues were burned and other establishments destroyed.
Life in the ghetto was cramped and primitive at best with limited food and no coal for heat. The Nazis made sure to keep the Jews in the ghetto as cut off from the outside world as possible. There were curfews and many strict rules the Jews had to abide by. Jews did not have radios as they had been forced to turn them in and no one had as much as a calendar, yet somehow they managed to keep track of Jewish holidays and observed them along with the Sabbath in whatever ways they could. They would save potatoes throughout the year so that on Passover they could go without bread and still survive.
Everyone living in the ghetto had to make themselves useful in order to receive food rations and many died from hunger. Frieda was put to work making shoes from straw that provided the Germans an extra protective layer against the cold. It wasn’t long that she lost her own father to starvation. After her father passed away, Frieda remained alone with her mother as her siblings had previously left to seek refuge in other towns where they had other relatives, though ultimately they learned it was no safer there than in Lodz.
In August of 1944 as the Soviet troops were continuing their advance into Poland, the Lodz Ghetto was liquidated by the Nazis and Frieda along with her mother and the other Jews of the ghetto was transported to Nazi German Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz. Upon their arrival, they were greeted by Joseph Mengele who quickly determined the fate of all those who arrived in the camp as they stood before his eyes, sending them either to the right or the left. Frieda’s mother was sent to the left. Not knowing what this fate meant, Frieda pleaded with Mengele to be able to stay with her mother. Before Mengele had the chance to decide her own fate, a couple of prisoners who worked by the transports with understanding of what was transpiring quickly pulled Frieda away from her mother, sending her to the right. That was the last time Frieda ever saw her mother as she was unknowingly bound for the gas chambers. She never had the chance to learn the names of her fellow prisoners, but to this very day she insists they were two angels that saved her life.
Fortunately, Frieda did not spend longer than 3 days in Nazi German Concentration and Extermination Camp Auschwitz before being transported to a labor camp called Kristianstad which was close to Berlin. Here, Frieda was a bricklayer where every day she helped construct a wall and every night would have to take it down as part of training. Every day before work, everyone stood at attention while being counted. Sometimes there were miscounts or someone would be missing and everyone was then forced to stand outside for hours without food as punishment. One day, Frieda happened upon a potato that fell from a nearby truck. Unsure what else to do with it as there were no means of cooking, she intended to eat it raw, but did not get the chance, as she was spotted by a female German officer who took away the potato and punished Frieda by making her stand alone at attention. Another officer upon seeing Frieda stand as she was told, approached her and asked her name which she took down.
Shortly after, Frieda learned she was included on a list of 20 girls that were being sent to another Nazi German labor camp in Czechoslovakia called Parschnitz. Here, quality of life drastically improved under much better conditions. Frieda worked in a factory that produced gas masks and was able to use her knitting abilities to knit herself socks and scarves to help her keep warm during the brutal winter. She learned that “stolen” potato helped save her by causing her to be transferred to Parschnitz while many of those who had remained in Kirstianstad died on a forced march to Bergen-Belsen as the Russian troops were advancing.
In January of 1945, Frieda was finally liberated. Along with some friends, she made her way back to Poland in search of any living family. When she learned there were no other survivors among her immediate family, she had no wish to remain in Poland. She with her friends then set out to Germany and ultimately arrived in Landsberg where a displaced persons camp had been established. The camp functioned like a community where life slowly began to normalize for all the survivors there. Here she met her future husband, Sam Weinreich who also happened to be a native of Lodz, though their paths had never before crossed. As the sole survivors of their families, they married in September of 1946 and together began to rebuild their lives.
In 1949, Sam and Frieda received their papers to leave to America. They assumed they would settle somewhere familiar sounding such as New York or California, but had never heard of Memphis, Tennessee, the place they landed due to Sam’s background in the furniture finishing industry. 70 years after arriving in Memphis and having built a beautiful life and family there, Frieda and Sam still remain there as active members of the Jewish community and are among the city’s very last few Holocaust survivors. Together they continue to publicly share their stories. This summer, they celebrated their 95th and 100th birthdays along with their 73rd wedding anniversary.
What does Auschwitz mean to you?
Death. I lost my mother there. We did not know what it was going to be. We thought we were going to a different camp to work. I was there for 3 days. My father had already died in the ghetto.
Learn about the Holocaust so it doesn’t happen again Some people don’t know what Auschwitz is and they need to. Some countries have dictators and you never know. People need to vote. Some people think the Holocaust is a hoax.