Holocaust Remembrance Day
By Larry Freudenberg
Above is a copy of my father’s German passport. All Jewish males had “Israel” added as a middle name, and all Jewish females had “Sarah” added. Each passport of a Jew would show the side of the face and have a large J on it. The Nazis were meticulous about keeping records on each Jew from life to death.
Several weeks ago we took a deep breath and prayed for the six million Jewish souls murdered by the Third Reich. This is called Holocaust Remembrance Day, known by Jews and friends worldwide as Yom HaShoah. In the middle of the day on April 7, horns blew all over the Jewish state of Israel to announce a countrywide two minutes of silence for the victims. People stopped their cars, even on the interstates, and got out to stand in solidarity. Nothing compares in the history of the world to the Holocaust where a government, the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler, executed “the final solution” to exterminate all the Jews of Europe. No people have ever been subject to such an evil plan in the history of the world. Two-thirds of all Jews in Europe perished.
I have a close connection to the Holocaust because my father’s family were German Jews. The family had been in Germany for many generations and was considered to be valuable, peaceful and self-reliant people. My father, Heinz Heineman Freudenberg (changed to Henry in our country); my grandmother, Margot Freudenberg, nee Strauss; and my grandfather, Walter Freudenberg, lived in Essen, Germany, located in the western part of the country. The family owned a department store, H&L Freudenberg, founded by my great grandfather, Heinemann Freudenberg, and his brother Lewis Freudenberg.
The Holocaust didn’t start in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. It started from the beginning on the ascent of Hitler’s reign as chancellor in 1933. Year after year starting in 1933, the government of Germany instituted edicts to restrict the freedoms of its Jewish citizens and opened the first concentration camps. On April 1, 1933, Jewish-owned shops were boycotted. Our family’s store failed in the mid 1930s because of the changing attitude of the German people toward their own Jewish population. This racism was state sponsored — and worst of all, the Nazis made no pretentions about their plan to purge the world of the Jews.
I was born in 1959 and have a deep understanding of what my family endured in Germany. My father and grandparents were fortunate to leave Germany in 1939 just before the Polish invasion. They went to England where they stayed for a year as “noncitizens.” To get into the United States at that time was extremely difficult. Even though our government knew of the plight of the European Jews, we maintained a quota system to restrict the number of immigrants. My family was allowed to immigrate to the U.S. in 1940. They sailed across the Atlantic from Southampton, England, for a new life. After arriving, they were assisted by Jewish refugee agencies and placed in a rent-free apartment in Charleston on King Street near the Battery.
My father and grandparents didn’t go to a concentration camp. My great uncle, Lewis Freudenberg, went to the concentration camp of Theresienstadt, where he perished with other family members. My father and grandparents endured the hell of the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht) in November of 1938, where Hitler instructed his government to destroy all Jewish-owned businesses and synagogues. This is nothing that any of us could ever imagine happening to any people of a country. But it did and it can happen again. Ethnic cleansing and extreme views and actions against a helpless minority are cruel and a stain on the good of humanity.
Yom HaShoah is a solemn day for me. I am extremely grateful that this country let my family emigrate. I am thankful that my family flourished in this country after coming here with a few dollars. But I can never forget the six million people, my people, the Jewish people, who were exterminated in gas chambers, by firing squads and other means and then burned in crematoriums. I’ll never forget and I hope the world doesn’t forget. We must remember that people are fallible, and the German people followed Hitler’s lead to become the most murderous people of all time. Please remember for my family and me.
Larry W. Freudenberg is a sixth-generation Charlestonian and owner of his family’s 117-year-old insurance agency, founded on Broad Street in Charleston by his great grandfather. He has been to Israel three times and is a political activist for a strong U.S.-Israel alliance.