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“I always worried a lot”

In mid-March of 2012, on the occasion of the opening of the exhibition of “German Forced Labor, the Forced Laborers and the War” in the colliery (Zeche Zollern) in Essen, the International Tracing Service (ITS) gave eyewitness and author Vera Friedlander documents of 23 members of her family. “I already knew this information, but I am happy to receive copies from the archives of the ITS,” says Friedlander. She herself survived the Holocaust as a forced laborer in a repair workshop of Salamander AG, in Berlin. Her mother was Jewish, her father Catholic.

For several years, Friedlander looked into the fate of her relatives. On the basis of her personal experiences and her mother’s stories, she began her research. “I remember well the image of my grandmother being deported and getting onto the transport wagon,” says the 84-year-old. “I will never forget this picture for my entire life.” Friedlander visited the memorial at Auschwitz and Terezin as well as the provincial archives in Potsdam, in order to learn more about her family. Relatives’ photos and letters from the Nazi period helped with the research. “Every tiny piece of the puzzle shed light on the events,” she says. Her relatives were murdered in Auschwitz and Terezin.

Friedlander’s mother survived the Holocaust. “I always worried a lot because my mother did not wear the ‘Judenstern’ (Star of David),” she recalls. “I wondered why she did not wear the star and why she did not have trouble with the Nazis.” A list of names of the Jewish community in the ITS archives may provide some clarity for Friedlander. Her mother, born Charlotte Tawrizowski, née Rüdau, was exempt for “special reasons” from the requirement of wearing the star, and deportation was deferred. The reasons for this were unfortunately not in the documents. “The star is still owned by my family,” says Friedlander.

Her father was deported to a labour camp. Even under Nazi pressure, he would not separate from his Jewish wife. Because of that, the relatives enjoyed some degree of protection. Vera Friedlander and her mother were not deported to death camps, as were the other members of the family.

Frieda’s experiences and stories are all recorded in her book, “One Cannot Be a Half Jew.” In this book, she describes the final years of the Nazi regime from the perspective as a “half Jew,” and tells how her large family was torn apart, deported, and murdered. But Friedlander also teaches strength and confidence in her book. She talks of compassion, solidarity, and human dignity.