A Holocaust Family Memoir
by Max J. Friedman
My parents, Sam and Frieda, survived the Holocaust. This is their story and my own.
My name is Max Friedman, and I am the author of Painful Joy: A Holocaust Family Memoir. I wrote this book in honor of my parents, Sam and Frieda Friedman, and all those who endured unimaginable suffering and loss just because they were Jews. This book seeks to restore their humanity by focusing on two individuals and their families -- those they loved and lost and those that remained. I hope that through my writing, I can communicate the importance of seeing each of those victims, including survivors like my parents, in the broader context of their lives before the Holocaust, what happened to them during those war years, and the traumas they suffered afterwards, passing on their pain to future generations. By the time those two strangers have been transformed by the end of the book into two individuals you understand a bit more, and care about a great deal. My hope is this journey will broaden the ability of all of us to feel empathy for those who have suffered and gain greater insights into our own journeys.
First of All
When my sister and I were still very young, we felt and saw the evidence of the traumas our parents had endured during the Holocaust. We woke them from their nightmares and though still just children, we became their child parents, taking care of them in so many ways, instead of the other way around. As Second Generation Holocaust Survivors, we found ourselves surviving their survival. Painful Joy focuses on the horrors that they experienced, the losses they suffered and how all that they endured their entire lives affected succeeding generations. It is a story, a journey and a memoir that is both heartwarming and heartbreaking.
Let's Not Forget
My parents were born in small villages called shtetls in the first decade of the 20th century in Poland. In the first few years of their young lives, they had already endured life-changing challenges. And that was even before the First and then the Second World Wars. As young adults during what became known as the Holocaust, they somehow survived harsh ghettos, backbreaking work and starvation in slave labor camps and the ceaseless terrors and horrors of concentration and killing camps in Poland and Germany. Nearly every single member of their families, except for one, were murdered. Broken physically and mentally, they met in Sweden after their liberation, married and sought to rebuild their shattered lives. That's where my sister and I were born. We came to the U.S. in 1952 and after living in Brooklyn for most of the rest of their lives, their last years were spent in Mobile, Alabama, near my sister, as their health declined.
Rachel is pictured here with a photo of the four of us taken in when I was 13 and she was nearly 16. In her last years In Alabama, my mother became a kind of Holocaust survivor celebrity every Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, as one of the few survivors to live in the area, telling bits and pieces of her story to anyone who would listen.
I avoided that story for most of my life. After all, I grew up and lived with the results of all that pain and sadness. My father died in 1993 and my mother in 1998. Shortly after my mother passed away, the Mobile Register interviewed my sister about them. She recalled what it was like to live with survivors. Painful Joy expands that reporting to cover their lifetimes and our own.
As a Second Generation Holocaust Survivor, I came to recognize the importance of keeping alive not only the memory of my parents as more than survivors and statistics, but also to try in some small way to restore the humanity of those who survived -- and those who were lost -- and in some small way educate all of us about what happened to these people and the scars and traumas that will always remain. We must never forget what happened during those horrific years and the traumas that lived on -- in the hope that this catastrophe and genocide will never happen again.