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Survivor writes memoir about starting anew in Canada

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Gerda Frieberg. FSWC PHOTO
Gerda Frieberg. FSWC PHOTO

Many Holocaust survivors were unable to speak about the horrific events they lived through. Fortunately, however, some, like Gerda Frieberg, have been able to speak, and their testimony has been heard and recorded.

In her first book, published in 2013, I Kept My Promise, Frieberg writes her family’s story.

Born in Upper Silesia, Poland, in 1925, she tells of her happy childhood that was transformed into a nightmare in 1939 when her father was taken away and never seen again.

Teenage sisters Gerda and Hana (Steinitz) and their mother were deported to Jaworzno Ghetto in 1940. In 1942, they were interned in Oberalstadt concentration camp in Germany. Frieberg lost 172 members of her family – she, her sister and her mother were the only survivors.

They were liberated by the Soviet army in 1945 and spent four years in a displaced persons camp in Germany.

Recently, Frieberg published her second volume, Never a Bystander, which begins with her arrival in Canada in 1953. With numerous pictures and documents, she recounts her hardships and her commitment to tell the Holocaust story and to work for human rights.

“When I came to Canada with my husband and a six-week-old baby, I wanted to rebuild a family and the Jewish People. Coming to Canada is where my journey begins.”

With hard work and optimism, the Friebergs began to build their family, and eventually a successful real estate development business.

It was at her installation as president of a B’nai Brith chapter in 1964 that she spoke publicly about the Shoah for the first time. Suddenly, she says, many groups approached her to speak about the Holocaust. She has told her story to thousands of students and adults, Jewish and non-Jewish, across the country.

Never a Bystander tells of her rise as a community activist and educator. Frieberg was chair of the founding committee of the Toronto Holocaust Centre, chair of the Ontario region of Canadian Jewish Congress, founder of the Holocaust Survivors of Canada, and she organized Women for Soviet Jewry.

She has received the 125th Anniversary of Confederation of Canada Medal, the governor general’s Meritorious Service Medal, the Elie Wiesel Holocaust Remembrance Award and many more.

“I considered my survival a gift to be dedicated to the memory of the victims of the Shoah. Amid the silence of the world, the plea of the victims, ‘Remember us,’ became a commandment.”

With chutzpah and tenacity, Gerda Frieberg, who could not speak English when she arrived in Canada, has left her indelible mark on her chosen country, Canada.

Frieberg lives in Toronto and has two children, Josey and Jack, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.