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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           ISAAC GOODFRIEND
INTERVIEWER:       SHIRLEY BRICKMAN
LOCATION:             ATLANTA, GEORGIA
DATE:                      DECEMBER 13, 1993

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Cantor Isaac Goodfriend was born in Piotrkow, Poland on January 20, 1924. He was the oldest of five children born to an Orthodox family. The family moved to Lodz, where his paternal grandfather operated a dry goods store, when Isaac was a year old. Religious traditions and observations dominated every part of the family’s lives. Isaac attended cheder and yeshiva, and after his bar mitzvah, he was sent to Sosnowiec to study in an advanced yeshiva. He returned to Lodz shortly before the Germans invaded Poland in 1939. In 1940, the family fled to Piotrkow, where they joined his extended family in the ghetto. Isaac was sent to work at the Kara glass factory. His father died in 1941. Two aunts and a cousin escaped the ghetto, living in hiding at a nearby Polish farm. The rest of his family, including his mother and siblings, were killed when the Piotrkow ghetto was liquidated in 1942. 

Isaac remained in Piotrkow, living and working at the glass factory. At the end of 1943, Isaac realized that the Kara camp was about to be liquidated and made plans to escape with his friend. The two made it to the farm where his surviving family members were hiding. Isaac and his friend worked on the farm under the guise of being the farmer’s distant family members until the Russians liberated the area in January 1945.

After the war Isaac traveled to Berlin, where he met his wife, Betty, a fellow survivor. The couple immigrated to Paris and Canada and finally settled in the United States. After the war, Isaac became a world-class cantor. He attended the Berlin Conservatory of Music, McGill Conservatory of Music, Conservatoire Provincial de Quebec, the Music School Settlement, and Baldwin Wallace College. In 1952, Isaac served as cantor at the Shaare Zion Congregation in Montreal and later at Cleveland's Community Temple in Cleveland, Ohio. He then moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he served as cantor for Ahavath Achim Synagogue for thirty years. 

In 1962, Isaac became a US citizen. In 1979, President Jimmy Carter appointed Goodfriend to the President’s Commission on the Holocaust. He was a charter member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1985, the governor of Georgia appointed Cantor Goodfriend to serve on the statewide Holocaust Memorial Commission. His memoir, By Fate or Faith: The Saga of a Survivor, was published in 2002. Betty and Isaac had three sons. Betty died in 2008. Isaac died on August 10, 2009.


Scope of Interview:
Cantor Goodfriend introduces his family and describes his early years in Piotrkow and Lodz, Poland. He recounts the religious traditions and holidays his family observed. He outlines his education. Cantor Goodfriend recalls the anxiety and confusion in the community when Jewish refugees from Germany began to arrive and war seemed imminent. He describes how things began to rapidly change economically for the family after the Germans invaded Poland and occupied Lodz. Cantor Goodfriend recounts some of the destruction, abuse, and antisemitism his family observed and endured. He explains how his family fled Lodz for Piotrkow. He describes life in the ghetto and trying to survive by trading money and men’s socks on the Black Market. Cantor Goodfriend discusses going to work at a glass factory in the ghetto. He shares how he lost his family when the ghetto was liquidated. He relays a story about narrowly escaping severe punishment thanks to his relationship with Polish workers at the factory. Finally, Cantor Goodfriend describes escaping from the factory and finding refuge with a Polish farmer until the war’s end.
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