This Holocaust survivor tells her story for Yom HaShoah


Hundreds gathered at Congregation Beth Sholom in Lawrence to commemorate Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, paying tribute to the six million Jews that were killed during World War II.

“I think that’s the essence of Yom HaShoah,” Nathaniel Rogoff said. “People of all ages of our community coming together to honor the memory of the victims and celebrate the strength and resolve of the Jewish people.”

A musical presentation from the Hebrew Academy of Long Beach fifth-grade choir got the April event under way and its main event, Holocaust survivor Esia Friedman recounted her childhood during the darkest days as a Jew.

A native of Vina, Lithuania, Friedman described the scene of her hometown based on the nickname French military general Napoleon Bonaparte gave it, “Jerusalem of Lithuania,” when he passed through it in 1812.

“We Jews lived in an isolated community, she said. “Among our own people because, as everyone knows, the anti-Semites were in full force.”

Friedman was 9 in June 1939 when the Germans attacked Vina by dropping bombs from planes. Searching for ways to escape, her father, Yitzchak Friedman, an administrator in a military hospital, came home with a truck  and told his wife, Aidel Friedman, that it was time to evacuate.

Aidel asked her husband, “Can I take my sister?” He replied saying, “No, I can only take you,” to which she, said with no hesitation, “Then we will die together.”

Yitzchak went away with the truck and never came back. Esia’s brother, Zev Friedman, disappeared shortly after her father.

Trying to understand what was happening, Esia recalled asking herself, “Why us?”

The Germans would capture and send Esia and Aidel to the ghetto of Vilnius, Lithuania, a creation of the Nazis, that isolated Jews from the non-Jewish population. Esia said the living conditions were inhumane.

“There were just people shoved in,” Friedman said, describing their apartment. “The first thing mom did was to find a hiding place. She was like a hawk and she would hide me.”

She hid her in an attic where she had to stay quiet for her safety while her mother was granted a work permit to work in the ghetto hospital.

Her mother would often convince her to escape the ghetto before it was too late. However, Esia insisted she would stay with her.

One night her mother heard that the ghetto would be liquidated. Thus, she had to think fast on how to get Esia to safety.

She suggested Esia to run towards people her father had helped, as she believed they would take her in.

Before shoving Esia through a hole in the ghetto wall to escape, Aidel gave her one last kiss goodbye and said, “Make sure you never forget that you are Jewish.”

Since hearing those words, Esia has made it her mission to travel across the United States and preserve Holocaust history by sharing her story with the next generation.

She would reunite with her father, mother, brother and relatives in Connecticut, where she currently lives.

“She went through so much,” Tahra Mastour said. “But remained true to her God. Mrs. Friedman could’ve given up on her God but didn’t. Instead, she turned to her Jewish roots and remained stronger.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day, Yom HaShoah, is Observed in the U.S., Israel and many Jewish communities across the world, to commemorate  the Holocaust.

“Yom HaShoah is a vital day in the Jewish calendar, Mastour said. “Providing us with the vital point for our remembrance. We cannot bring the dead back to life, but we can bring their memories back and ensure they are not forgotten.