This season of Yom HaShoah, three Holocaust survivors recently shared their stories at a“Prejudice & Memory: A Holocaust Exhibit” housed at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base’s U.S. Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.
“Prejudice & Memory: A Holocaust Exhibit” is comprised of the photographs, artifacts, and recorded memories of concentration camp survivors, their families, liberators, and “righteous Gentiles” (non-Jews who helped Jews during the Holocaust), who now live in the Dayton, Ohio, area. The Holocaust Exhibit in Dayton is one of several in the U.S. constructed to honor and remember community members’ connections with the Nazis’ institutionalized genocide of Jews.
This is Renate Frydman’s story.
Renate Frydman was born in Frankfort, Germany just after Hitler seized power. She was still an infant when Hitler began passing laws degrading and humiliating the Jewish population. One law rescinded every German Jew’s citizenship. This was a huge disgrace for Renate’s family, including her grandfathers, who were both World War I veterans.
After someone dropped a rock from their apartment window into baby Renate’s carriage, her grandfather, Max May, realized the urgency of getting his family out of Germany. He wrote a cousin in New York, whom he had never met, asking for help.
At the time, immigrants could be granted admittance to the U.S. if they could find someone to sign an affidavit promising to financially support them for 5 years. America was in the middle of the Great Depression, so sponsorships were hard to get. Securing one sponsorship, Max left his family in Germany in 1936 to come to America. Working as an architect and artist in New York, Max spent the next year and a half exploring every possible avenue to bring his family to America.
While Max was in New York, his family was suffering under the oppressive tyranny of the Nazis. Renate’s father’s business was taken from him and it became increasingly more dangerous to stay in Germany.
Eugene Rich, a man the family had never met, graciously offered to sign affidavits for four members of Max’s family. He had the finances to make the commitment and proved that just “one man can make a difference.” The papers were signed on November 9, 1938, the same day as Kristallnacht.
November 9, over a 24-hour period, Nazi storm troopers, SS officers, and Hitler Youth, began an all-out assault on Jews while the police stood aside and did nothing. They torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools, and businesses, and killed roughly 100 Jews. Because so many homes, businesses, and synagogues were destroyed, the streets were littered with shattered glass from the stain glass windows. The Night of Broken Glass, or Kristallnacht was the turning point for Hitler and his anti-Semitic agenda. It was the beginning of an aggressive pogrom, which led to increased deportations to ghettos and concentration camps.
While the riots continued on November 10th, Renate’s mother, Carmen, pleaded for passes at the British Embassy. Understanding the dire situation she and her family were in, Carmen refused to leave without the documents needed to flee. Renate’s father acquired a car to get them to the train station, enabling them to escape to Holland. From there, Renate, her parents, and her maternal grandmother, Lydia, fled to London before securing passage on a boat to America to reunite with Max.
The family arrived in New York on December 9, 1938. After one year, Renate’s father found a job in Dayton, Ohio. The family moved and settled into their new life, but Renate still had challenges to overcome.
Even in her new country, Renate experienced teasing and name-calling. Deciding she would chart a different course, she worked hard to become friends with her classmates. Over time, a group of girls became very close focusing on learning about each other’s differences rather than berating them. On the weekends, the girls would visit each other’s churches, including Renate’s synagogue, in efforts to understand each other. These girls formed bonds that are still strong today.
Renate’s paternal grandparents were not as fortunate as her maternal ones. In 1941 they were captured and sent to Auschwitz never to be heard from again. While Renate, at least, had several family members survive, her future husband was not quite so fortunate.
Charles Frydman and his family were seized and sent to ghettos before ending up in concentration camps. Being a young, healthy man, Charles’ mother was able to put him on a work truck to evade execution. Charles eventually escaped by jumping off of a truck and hiding in a cemetery. He spent over two years in the forest, living with different families for short times, before being captured. A survivor, Charles escaped again before being liberated by the Russians in 1945.
Charles’ mother and two sisters were killed at the death camp, Treblinka. With the rest of his family also exterminated by the Nazis, Charles made his way to Dayton, Ohio, where he became as successful businessmen, married Renate, and together had four children.
Renate travels the country educating children about name-calling and bullying. Those desiring power can easily use these methods to incite hatred and violence. Her goal is to encourage children not to discourage differences, but to strive for understanding and celebrate commonalities.
Renate’s family and her husband’s family are showcased in the “Prejudice & Memory: A Holocaust Exhibit.” A partial or full audio tour of the museum can be heard on the Museum’s podcasts.