Simmering Under the Ashes: A meeting with Eva Friedlander – Holocaust Survivor

Dr. Starostina's Special Topics Class "The Third Reich"
Dr. Starostina’s Special Topics Class “The Third Reich.”   Eva Friedlander and Dr. Starostina

 During this semester, my advisor, the lovely Dr. Starostina, is teaching a special topics class on NAZI Germany and the Third Reich.  Part of our discussions have centered around the victims of Hitler’s plan to create a master race, by eliminating those he felt were inferior to the “Aryan” race of Germany.  This list included, along with Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally challenged, the sick and infirmed, the people of the Jewish belief.  His ultimate plan was to wipe them from the face of Europe. World War II was such a horrific time in Europe, especially for those on the above list.  Our class was privileged today to have Eva Friedlander, a Holocaust and War survivor, give a presentation of her book, the “Nine Lives of a Marriage – A Curious Journey,” which is her memoir of  the war, coming to America and her life here in Atlanta, Georgia, as a displaced refugee.  Eva Friedlander, a Hungarian Jew, and now citizen of the United States is 90 years old and an entertaining speaker.  Our class could not get enough of her stories.  “We are sponges,” commented one of my fellow students, “fill us up.”  With grace, and an overwelming amount of wonderful knowledge, she did just that.

Her opening statement was pronounced and emotional, “No one in today’s generation, understands what it means to be persecuted in their own country.”  While loving her homeland of Hungary very much, she was very dissatisfied with its people during the moments before and during World War II.  Working as a secretary at a legal firm, she watched as the NAZIs move in the politics of Hungary reached to restrict those of the Jewish faith every day.  “Tightening the noose,” she said.  Restrictions were minimal at first, then suddenly, you were told you could only spend a certain amount of time at the grocery store, there was a limited amount of time you could spend at the bank.  One day, the lawyer she worked for, was no longer allowed to practice his law at the courts.  Then the next step, taking families from their homes and forcing them to live with 2 to 3 other families in a small 2 bedroom apartment.  What angered her, was the fact ,that the people of Hungary went along with it.

Mrs. Friedlander said she was lucky, because she found a job cleaning after the law office shut down, and the gentleman she cleaned the house for was tied to the underground.  He alerted her that it was time she and her mother got out, because people were disappearing and not coming home.  Receiving fake passports and papers from the man, the two women took on different identities and lived in another city.  Normally a blond, Mrs. Friedlander informed us that she dyed her hair dark and work glasses, so no one would recognize her.  Cutting off communication with those they knew, the two women packed a small case and left their home, and did not return until the Allies reached the country.
It was during the time that they were hiding, that the war came to an end for them, but not the hardships.  Daily air raids were stressful, but the two women knew that with the arrival of the allies, the persecution would be over.  “90% of people hiding in the basement with us during the bombardments were not from the area,” she said softly, as the remembrance of the time filled her mind’s eye.  She relived in her words, the day the Russians soldier’s found their group hiding out in the basement of the villa and her brush with almost being raped.
During the time after her speech, there were many great questions about her book.  But one question caught my attention about her homeland of Hungary, and how they are now making laws against the gypsies there.  Mrs. Friedlander answered with a poignant statement, “Simmering under the ashes, the thought is there.  It is frightening to me to see this.  If a country goes down monetarily, it is a breeding ground for the extremist.”
It leaves this writer with a thought.  While we think we have learned all the lessons there is to learn about prejudice, has this world truly?  Or is hatred still “simmering under the ashes?”  Watching the television, I tend to think we are fasting heading back to that time of persecution.
Eva Friedlander and her assistant.
Eva Friedlander and her assistant.

You can read about Mrs. Friedlander and her Husband George in her memoirs, “Nine Lives of a Marriage – A Curious Journey.”  I urge and recommend it.  She’s such a wonderful lady.