GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.- This year marks the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, a concentration camp where more than 1 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
Thursday, Grand Valley State University held an event showing a documentary on the Holocaust produced by WGVU.
They also invited the woman behind that documentary to speak to students as one of the youngest survivors of the Auschwitz prison camp.
“That was January 27 1945. That’s why I’m so glad to talk about it here when it’s January. It’s really like an anniversary of my liberation,” Tova Freidman said.
Still now, well into her 70's, Friedman travels the country telling her incredible story of survival so that new generations will learn and others will never forget.
“They told me 27,633 and I didn't know what the number was, I never heard of numbers,” she said. “I was 5 and a half, I was never in school I didn’t know what all this was. So I knew that the only thing we were waiting for was to die.”
Friedman was told she no longer had a name, that her new identity was tattooed on her arm as she entered the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“Life became completely different from what any of us imagined. The first thing they did was shave your head,” she said. “I had long braids and I remember the woman who took me, put me on a bench- that’s how little I was. She cut my braids, shaved my head.”
Friedman was the only child from her polish village to survive the journey to Auschwitz where she says the children were not censored from the reality.
“I could smell the burning of flesh in the crematorium because the way they did it they would first put you in- they would gas the bodies and after they took them out, these hundreds of bodies, into these ovens to cremate them because they had no space for the bodies and there’s so many,” she said.
Friedman too was taken to be executed.
“But the room never opened for us, we were waiting for hours, we were freezing, it was so cold we were turning blue outside.” She said. “They were screaming and yelling, we never found out what happened.”
As the war came to an end and the German soldiers attempted to eradicate all witnesses and leave Auschwitz, Friedman and her mother hid under corpses.
“She uncovers me and she says, they’re gone,” Friedman said. “And then we started walking towards the barbed wires and we waited for the Russians to come.”
Friedman is now a therapist, she says she uses what she has been through to teach people to have courage and that somehow there's always a light at the end of the tunnel.