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Jewish Heritage: The Oral Histories - Cuba Family Archives

MEMOIRIST:           NORBERT FRIEDMAN

INTERVIEWERS:    ADINA LANGER

                                 MIKE BRYAN

DATE:                      OCTOBER 15, 2015

LOCATION:             ATLANTA, GEORGIA

Transcript (PDF)

BIOGRAPHY

Born in Krakow, Poland in 1922, Norbert was the son of a kosher butcher. Norbert was barred from entering engineering school because of education quotas for Jews.

When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, Norbert’s family fled Krakow, staying at various family members’ homes and moving from town to town. In 1942, Norbert and his father were sent to the Mielec labor camp. Norbert’s mother, younger brother, and other extended family were sent to Belzec and murdered a few months later. Norbert was imprisoned in a series of eleven camps before being liberated by American soldiers. His father and a sister also survived the war.

Norbert briefly worked as a translator for the American Army before enrolling in Frankfurt University. In 1950, Norbert immigrated to the United States and initially settled in Atlanta, Georgia. He soon moved to New Jersey and finally settled in New York, where he opened a machine shop. He married Marilyn Ginsburg and raised two sons.

Norbert was an active member of the New York Jewish community and frequently shared his Holocaust testimony. After his retirement, he began writing about his experiences. In 2006, he published his memoir, Sunrays at Midnight, which was followed by Sappy Tales and Silent Screams: Subterranean Echoes from the Holocaust.

Norbert moved back to Atlanta, Georgia in 2010. He was a member of Congregation B’nai Torah and an active speaker at the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum until his death in 2019.

Scope of Interview:

Norbert describes fleeing east in advance of the German invasion of Poland in September 1939. He recalls the shortages of food and other changes in Krakow when he returned. Norbert explains how the black market worked and how he traded goods to peasants in the countryside for food. He explains how the Judenrat in Krakow was responsible for issuing ration cards and work permits. When the Krakow ghettos were established, Norbert recounts how his family fled with limited belongings and some Polish and American currency. He recounts his family’s dispersion throughout several small towns.

Norbert talks about his father’s job buying fruits for a German-run marmalade factory. He reminisces about befriending other young Jews, with whom he sold meat on the black market in Warsaw. Norbert describes what he saw when he snuck into the Warsaw ghetto. He recounts selling vodka on the black market. Norbert recollects his father illegally butchering animals after he lost his job. He explains how they had to leave town when his father was discovered and were reunited with the rest of his family. He mentions learning about the labor camps from underground newspapers. He describes increasing shortages of food and the bartering that took place within the Jewish community. Norbert outlines how he managed to sneak in and out of the Krakow ghetto to visit family. He recalls being sent to the Mielec labor camp with his father and an uncle. Norbert describes the camp’s internal system of authority and a typical workday. He considers what helped him mentally survive the daily abuses he witnessed. Norbert remembers the black market within the labor camp. He talks about getting tattooed and loosing all of his valuables. Norbert speaks about the abuses he witnessed and endured from the camp commandant, Josef Schwammberger, and his son. 

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