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USHMM Interview with Gideon Frieder

Frieder Podcast
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
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tags: family living underground money

type: Interview

Only a small number of Jewish children targeted by the Nazis for murder survived the Holocaust. Born in 1937 in Slovakia, Gideon Frieder is one of these few child survivors protected by a non-Jewish family.

For several years, Frieder's family was relatively safe in Hitler-allied Slovakia; Frieder's father was an influential Rabbi deemed important to the right-wing Slovak government. This situation changed in the fall of 1944 when an uprising broke out against the pro-German government. As German forces occupied the country, Gideon's mother and sister were killed during a bombing raid. Seven-year-old Gideon remained alone among a group of partisans. Thanks to one of them, a Polish Jew named Henry Herzog, the boy was placed in the mountain village of Bully with a childless Polish-Slovak couple—Paulina and Józef Strycharczyk.1

Frieder has in recent years shared this story of his survival through the US Holocaust Memorial Museum's public program "First Person: Conversations with Holocaust Survivors." In the interview featured here, he focuses on the generous care he received from the Strycharczyk family, touching upon several different aspects of living with the family. The family, for example, gave Gideon a new name and identity—they even taught him to recite Christian prayers, dramatically increasing his chances for survival.2 But more essential in Gideon's story is the warm surrogate home opened to him by "Aunt Paulina" and "Uncle Józef."

Although the Strycharczyks were commanded by the partisans—at gunpoint—to shelter young Gideon, and although they risked their lives by hiding him, the family did not treat him as a burden. "I never felt anything but willingness, love, and support from this family," Frieder recalled in another interview.3

After the liberation of Slovakia in the spring of 1945, Frieder reunited with his father, who had also survived the Holocaust.4 Later, he emigrated to Israel and, subsequently, to the United States. He returned to Slovakia for the first time after the war in the 1990s and found the only daughter of Paulina and Józef Strycharczyk. She remarked that until their deaths in the 1970s, her parents had regarded Gideon as their own son.

Henry Herzog was a partisan who rescued Frieder. He included Gideon's story in his postwar memoir; see Henry A. Herzog, …And Heaven Shed No Tears (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2005), 224–230.

Although focused on Poland, the following chapter gives insight into life of Jewish children hidden by Christian families: Nahum Bogner, "Life with the Rescuing Families," in At the Mercy of Strangers: The Rescue of Jewish Children with Assumed Identities in Poland (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2009), 54–69. See also Deborah Dwork, "Into Hiding," in Children with a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), 31–65.

"First Person" interview from April 25, 2018.

The Diary of Abraham Frieder appears in the Experiencing History collection Holocaust Diaries. See also Rabbi Frieder's memoirs: Emmanuel Frieder, To Deliver Their Souls: The Struggle of a Young Rabbi during the Holocaust (New York: Holocaust Library, 1987). 

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 GIDEON FRIEDER:

The partisans, Henry, never realized I was wounded. But he realized that a child cannot survive in the mountains. The partisans were moving all the time, they were a fighting unit. Being saddled with a seven-year-old child is not something a fighting unit want to do, so they brought me to this village. At night.

And they selected the first house. They didn't dare to go into the village. They surveyed the village for a long time, there was no movement. The village was so small, that there was no German garrison there. It's a dirt road with some houses on the side. The word is exaggerated; it's a mini hamlet rather than a village. There were no Germans there. They knocked on the first house and this was the house of Pauline and Jozef Strycharszyk. And they placed me there.

BILL BENSON:

So it wasn't like a safe house that they knew? It was just the first house they got to, and said, "Take this boy."

GIDEON FRIEDER:

Yes. And there are two versions of it, in a sense. Henry, in his memoirs, which I used, which I was instrumental in publishing, I did all the computer work and set up to publish and so on, wrote that he came there, and these partisans were reasonably fearsome-looking, you know. They were not shaven really. They had all these grenades hanging on them. They have some machine guns taken from the Germans. And told them to keep this child safe, and if not, they will come next night and kill all of you. Which is kind of a persuasive argument I would say. That is his story.

My father's story was that they were promised a nice reward. Everybody knew that the war is over and it's just a matter of time. And they were told that I'm a son of a very important man and that if I survived they would be rewarded. I don't know. I assume that both stories are correct. There was a carrot and stick approach by the partisans.

I have to say that while I was there, everything they did was not a product of fear. I felt wanted. I felt, within certain limits, while I was in the house, safe. I never left more than fifty meters perimeter from the house. So all my stay there I never left the vicinity of the house. So I wouldn't say that I was very assured about my safety. But . . .

BILL BENSON:

And you were there for quite a while.

GIDEON FRIEDER:

I was there from October '44 till April '45. I never left the vicinity of the house. Except once, when in December we walked to the real village next to it. I would assess it's about five kilometers, three and a half miles, three miles, three and a half miles. We walked there for the midnight mass in Christmas, in December, through the snow. But I don't remember any other time that I left the vicinity of the house.

BILL BENSON:

And speaking of going to the mass, the family gave you an identity.

GIDEON FRIEDER:

Oh, yes. Obviously when I came. One of the reasons I believe they did everything . . . Let me step back. That village of possibly 50 houses, if that much, maybe 25, saved ten families of Jews.

BILL BENSON:

In that one village?

GIDEON FRIEDER:

That one little village of extremely religious Catholics, in the hut I was in, in this house. By the way, the picture of the house is a modern picture. At the time there was not the concrete side of the house was not there. And there were no real glass windows beautifully painted white. This is a new picture.

Every wall in these two big rooms which the house consisted of, had a large picture of the heart of Jesus. These are very deeply believing Catholics. They saved many people. So when I came there, it was very obvious that if I were called Gideon Frieder, my chances of survival are rather minimal. So they gave me a Slovak name, a very Slovak-sounding name. I was called Jan Suchý. So Jan is the Slavic version of John. And the endearment is Janko, so they called me Janko. Suchý is a very typical, Slovak-sounding name. It's very funny in a sense because suchý means in Slovak "dry." And when I was brought there I was anything but dry. I was dripping wet. I was a mess.

And they taught me . . . first of all they established another identity. I was the son of the brother of the woman. And the brother of the woman, look how clever – these were totally uneducated people. They were so intelligent. You do know that intelligence and education are two different things. They were so intelligent; they understood what has to be done. They understood that they have to establish an identity for me, which will be impeccable. My pedigree should be impeccable. So my pedigree was: I was the son of the brother of the woman, and the brother was killed by the partisans. So for the Germans I was really somebody of value. I mean, obviously I don't like the partisans; my father was killed by them.

And they taught me. They taught me a sentence. They said if somebody will ask you this, you tell them that. And for the life of me I couldn't understand what they taught me. I couldn't care less. I memorized it and I used it.

I discovered only later on. What they taught me was the Lord's Prayer. Sorry. Obviously, no Jewish boy will know the Lord's Prayer. But you have to go back to the 1940s. These were Catholics. The Catholic Church used the Latin mass. All the liturgy was in Latin, with three exceptions, which were always in the language of the country. And one of the exceptions was the Lord's Prayer.

But these were not essentially university graduates; they were not even graduates of a primary school. They were taught this by their parents, which were taught by their parents over generations. The words in Slovak will be: otec náš ktorý si na nebesiach; "Our Father in heaven . . . ." This [is] called Otčenáš; "Our Father." All the words were slurred to each other. But this is the way the Slovaks knew it anyway right? It doesn't matter that you slurred it on because on the kids would slur it on. They didn't understand the Latin mass, they didn't understand what they are saying here either until they became older and they could parse the sentence. So this established my identity as a good Catholic boy by the name of Jan Suchý.

So I passed. But think about the intelligence of these people. The understanding they have. What it takes to survive. I was possibly the first Jew they have seen in their life, but they understood what's important to survive, how children survive, and they did everything to survive. I've many proofs, which happened many years later, that what they did they didn't do because they were threatened.

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
US Holocaust Memorial Museum
Date of Interview
May 13, 2009
Duration 00:09:32
Interviewee
Gideon Frieder
Interviewer
Bill Benson
Language(s)
English
Location
Washington, DC, USA
Interview Type Interview
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