Benjamin and Henia Friedberger
A Short Biography
----Ben Friedberger was born on May 5, 1918 in Konigsberg, which was then in Germany and is now the city of Kaliningrad in Russia. His parents were Josef Friedberger and Gita Weber. The only thing we know about Ben's pre-1945 is from Henia testimony: "Ben had been in the ghetto until one day he made up his mind, like I did."
----Chaya Kotler was born on November 15, 1922 in Svintsyan [Yiddish], Poland, today the small town of Shvencionys in eastern Lithuania. Her parents, Rafael Kotler and Leah Lemenon, had four children: Noah, Rochul, Menachem, and Chaya. Rafael was in the "casing" business, making the casing for salami and sausage. Chaya attended a Jewish school, a Polish school, and then an accounting school in Vilna.
----The German and Russian invasions of Poland in 1939 left the Friedbergers on the Soviet side of the border. They endured Soviet-style persecution until the German invasion of the Soviet Union in July 1941. The Friedbergers were incarcerated in a ghetto, and Chaya ended up in various camps. While in one of the camps, she joined a partisan group, and eventually she left the camp and joined a group of partisans operating in the forest. She was liberated in July or August 1944.
----Ben and Chaya had met in Kovno a couple of times, so they knew each other. From Kovno they went to Grodno, and from there they went to Bialystok, where they were safe because Bialystok was in Poland, and they were out of Russia. Then they went to Warsaw for a couple of months, and from Warsaw they went to Vienna and then to Italy, where they were in a camp. They got married on October 10, 1945. They were in Italy about two and half years, and their first daughter was born there in 1946. They emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York from Naples on November 14, 1947. She is listed on the ship manifest as "Henia Friedberger."
----The couple and their young daughter went straight to Mobile because Ben had two uncles there. Ben worked about eight months for his uncle, and then he became the owner and operator of Ben's Grocery and Variety Store. Ben would work in the daytime and go to school at night to learn English. Henia could not go to school in the evening because her third child was a baby. She learned English in the store.
----Ben was anxious to tell his relatives about the day his mother died from hunger at the hands of the Germans. After dinner on their first evening in Mobile, Den started telling them his story, and they did not let him finish. So from then on Ben never talked about it. Later Henia met a friend who spoke Yiddish and she was told by everybody not to speak Yiddish. Since she couldn't speak Yiddish, she couldn't speak, so she didn't.
----Ben died on February 16, 2005, and Henia died less than two weeks later, on February 27, 2005. Both are buried at Ahavas Chesed Cemetery.
A tribute from her daughter, Gloria Tobor
----Her father was a businessman who also assisted at the local synagogue. Her mother raised her children demonstrating acts of loving kindness in the community such as aid to the poor or sick of the town, and including strangers to her table on Shabbat (Friday night).
----Henia completed high school, and decided to attend a school to learn bookkeeping in a different city, where she would live with her sister and her family. She spoke several languages fluently.
----Henia was living with her sister when Hitler's armies invaded Poland. She never saw her parents again. They were among the first to be executed in their town by the Nazis along with her eldest brother.
----Her sister and Henia were initially moved to a ghetto, then the sisters were separated, and Henia was moved to various labor camps, the last one where she joyously met up with her sister and her two year old nephew again. Tragedy again struck when her nephew was pulled from the arms of his mother and shot immediately after arrival at the camp. Coupled with the killing of her husband, Henia's sister never overcame this loss.
----In this last labor camp, the project was the construction of roads. While on assignment she befriended a guard who allowed her to leave for a brief break. While walking around the forested area, she came across a home lived in by a couple without children. They were happy to see her and invited her to visit another time. Henia also met other prisoners who told her of a group the Partisans who lived outside in the forest throughout the countryside whose role was to obstruct the progress of the German army in whatever way they could. Determined to join the group, she tried unsuccessfully to convince her sister to escape with her. One day on a work assignment, she and another young man took a break, and never returned to the camp. They made their way through the forest and were able to locate a group of Partisans, and joined in their activities.
----After the end of World War II, Henia returned to the city of her birth, knocking on the door of her childhood home. The woman who answered the door, recognized Henia and almost fainted. Henia had been told by a neighbor that her mother had left clothing and other items for her in the attic. After she was admitted into her "former" home, she found nothing that she could use. Someone had pillaged the attic of everything of value.
----Chaos reigned after the war. She tried to get a job, but was turned down by the administrators of the city, since her father had not been employed in a blue collar job. After the war, the ones who received jobs were those whose fathers had blue collar jobs. To support herself, she bought or traded goods in one city and took her goods and sold them in another city.
----During this period, Henia attempted to learn of the whereabouts of grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins. When she discovered that almost all were dead, she could see no future in remaining in Eastern Europe. She took a train to one of many displaced persons camps that had sprung up in Austria, Italy and other countries. On the train she ran into Benjamin who she knew from her teenage years pre wartime. He too had found out about the many deaths in his family, and wanted a new start.
----They married shortly thereafter, and began to develop a plan to leave Europe behind. Eventually, they made contact with his uncle in Mobile, Alabama, and with his sponsorship, Ben, Henia and a young baby travelled by ship across the Atlantic Ocean, landed at Ellis Island in New York, and made their way to Mobile.
----Their first apartment was on Springhill Avenue. Henia cared for her baby while Benjamin worked for an uncle at a clothing store, and went to night school to learn English. Within several years, Ben and Henia were in business themselves in a corner grocery and variety store which had living space for the family above the store. These stores were small and carried many fewer items than the supermarkets that are prevalent today.
----Ben and Henia worked very hard in their store, which was open 6 % days a week from 7am to 7pm for several decades. Henia gave birth to a second baby, and the family moved to a triplex across the street from the store, and eventually to a free standing home also nearby the store. They took few vacations, but not together, for someone had to remain in the store. Henia did not learn to drive until her thirties. Her children took the bus to attend after school activities during the work day. After almost ten years, Ben and Henia were honored to become U.S.
----Henia was active in several philanthropic groups both in her synagogue and outside of it. She read the Mobile Press Register and a Yiddish (a language derived from German) newspaper daily, learning more about American culture while maintaining the culture of her childhood so roughly pulled away from her. She loved using the public library, and attending the theatre.
----She thought carefully before giving her opinion, was nonjudgmental with her daughters, and exhibited much patience. Complaining was not in her nature, and she veered away from the spotlight. She encouraged her children to acquire as much education as possible. She always tried to see the positive side of a situation. Her remarkable memory made her the historian of the family. She was thrilled to become a grandmother and great grandmother. To imagine that out of the destruction that she lived through, she had brought new generations in the world gave her much comfort and joy.
----In order to educate the next and future generation in order to hopefully avoid the horrors she lived through, she sat for interviews at the Holocaust Museum Houston, and more interviews in her home where she recalled this terrible time in her life. Henia lived during extraordinary times and never gave up despite the horrible losses she suffered. She persevered, not thinking of herself as a victim, and thus serves as a role model for her descendants and those that knew her.
----Henia Kotler Friedberger was a survivor.
Interview at the Holocaust Museum Houston, June 30, 2000
An edited transcript
Ben and Henia on list of passengers, S.S. Marine Perch, November 1947
Ben's Declaration of Intention to become an American Citizen
Henia's Declaration of Intention to become an American Citizen
Birth, death, burial
Mobile City Directories
With daughter, granddaughter, grandson, 1990s
With daughter and son-in-law, 1990s