Felicia Friedman survived the Nazis. She survived the Red Army and avoided her route through Eastern Europe after World War II. She survived immigration and a new life in America. The only thing she didn’t survive was a Covid-19 infected nursing home on Long Island. She died on May 19, 2020 at the age of 94.
Born Felicia Deutscher, a Jewish girl in Poland, was 13 years old when the Germans invaded in 1939. From the ghetto in Kraków to the Płaszów labor camp, from Auschwitz to a death march west to Neustadt-Glewe, she spent the next 5½ years imprisoned in the Holocaust. She saw her 6-year-old cousin shot for picking a flower. She was beaten repeatedly because she was a Jew with a German-sounding last name. She was followed by military dogs and followed by SS guards. She watched a friend be executed for humming a Russian tune.
On the way she saw thousands killed or died from frostbite and starvation. Somehow she kept her faith intact. After hearing another teenager claim that their dire situation proved that God does not exist, she replied that the oppression of the Jews proved the reality of God because everything that happened to them came from evil people. A young man named Elias Friedman heard them and vowed to marry them – if they survived.
Felicia was a tiny woman, only 5 feet 2 as an adult, but she was always quick on her feet. Ambitious too. Decades later, she would boast of being a valedictorian of her elementary school. Perhaps, however, their overriding quality was their ferocity. As a teenager she was the breadwinner of the family who was allowed to sell knitting and sewing from the ghetto (with an armband). When she said that spanking would stop if she begged, she refused. Marching through the snow, she wouldn’t lie down and die.
When the Nazis emptied the Kraków ghetto in the spring of 1943, she was separated from her family and taken to the Płaszów camp, where she worked on Bakelite radios and ammunition for the German military. The notorious commander Amon Göth “would beat people mercilessly,” she would remember. A security guard “had this huge German dog and the dog didn’t like noise” so he put the dog on anyone who bothered him. “I survived,” she liked to say. “He did not.”