Frieda S. Pertman, Holocaust survivor who made a new life in Baltimore

Frieda Pertma
Frieda Pertma (/HANDOUT)

Frieda S. Pertman, a Holocaust survivor who moved to Baltimore, where she and her family made a new life, died Wednesday of heart failure at the Springwell Senior Living Community in Mount Washington.

She was 99.


"She was all about resilience and went through events in her life that we can't imagine," said a son, Adam Pertman of Newton, Mass., a former Boston Globe reporter and editor. "She'd say, 'OK, we'll just do something else.'"

The daughter of Hersch Szarfsztajn, a tailor, and Chaya Szarfsztajn, Frieda Szarfsztajn was born and raised in Wohyn, Poland, the eldest of seven children.


Mrs. Pertman, who attended school only through the fifth grade, became an accomplished seamstress.

After working for two years in Warsaw, she, another girl and six boys walked back to Wohyn after the Germans bombed the Polish capital in 1939.

"My father was a very bright man," she told her son for a 1983 article published in The Globe. "He was a tailor, but he was a very bright man, a well-respected man. He was head of something like the town council, the Jewish town council.

"My father was the first Jew shot in Wohyn," she said in the article.


"When the Nazis came in, they called a meeting of the council, and they asked who is the president here, and it was my father. ... They told him that tomorrow, he has to give them 50 Jews to work," Mrs. Pertman recalled.

"He didn't say anything. He just opened the window next to him and stepped outside. And he told the men, 'I'm not going to give 50 Jews.' He knew what he was doing. And they shot him right there," she said.

She was married in 1939 to Chaim Pertman, her childhood sweetheart.

After her husband escaped from an internment camp, the couple left Wohyn in November 1939 and traveled to the Soviet Union by wagon and on foot, hiding in barns at night.

She was 22 when she last saw her parents and six siblings.

Once in Russia, her husband was drafted into the Red Army. When it was discovered that he was not a Russian national, he was exiled to a work camp near the Ural Mountains, while she took a job assembling motors in a nearby factory.

While Mrs. Pertman was never in a concentration camp, her mother and siblings perished in Treblinka, Auschwitz and Maidanek. Her husband's parents and two brothers were also exterminated during the war.

Of the approximately 300 Jewish families who had lived in Wohyn before the war, none was left by the war's end.

With the end of World War II, the couple moved back to Poland, where communist authorities had banned religion.

"After having lost almost her entire family to Adolf Hitler's ovens, this last blow, this denial of permission to grieve as she understood grieving, was too much," her son wrote in the 1983 article.

"There was no more religion. We ran away to Russia for six years, and everything disappeared while we were gone, " she said in the newspaper account. "Then we came back, and nobody was there. God took away everybody. Where was he?

Anti-Semitism in postwar Poland forced Mrs. Pertman and her family to move in 1957 to Israel. The next year, after childhood friends of her husband's, Moshe and Hannah Greenblatt, agreed to sponsor the family, they arrived in Baltimore with a few clothes, personal items and $140.

"As I was growing up in Baltimore, they told devastating stories about the discrimination they had suffered during their years in Poland, about the second-class lives that they had been forced to lead before and after the war, even about how they had witnessed brutality by some Poles just as insane as that of the Nazis," her son, who is now president and CEO of the National Center on Adoption and Permanency and author of "Adoption Nation," wrote in a 1990 Globe article.

"Once, when I was 9 or 10, I recall asking my mother why some of her friends had numbers tattooed on their arms; the answer was no answer at all, just a vague statement about there being some things I could not understand. She was trying to avoid a difficult, painful topic, of course, but she was also right," he wrote.

The couple began to talk about their experiences after attending gatherings of other Holocaust survivors.

"That's when they finally opened up. It was a release for them," her son said.

The couple owned and operated several mom-and-pop grocery stores in downtown Baltimore, and in 1975 established Pertman's Professional Tailoring and Cleaning on York Road in Towson. They closed the business in 1985 and retired.

From 1960 to 1961, they lived on Springhill Avenue near Druid Hill Park , and in 1963, the couple purchased a house on Falstaff Road in Northwest Baltimore, where they lived for the next 41 years.

In the mid-1980s, the couple bought an apartment in North Miami Beach, Fla., where they enjoyed spending winters.

"My mother was not bitter and was one of the most strong-willed people I've ever met in my life, and that's what got her through things," her son said. "Being not bitter was a testament to her."

Mrs. Pertman never returned to Poland.

"She didn't want to reunite with those memories," her son said.

Mrs. Pertman participated in the Shoah Project, established by filmmaker Steven Spielberg to chronicle and preserve the experiences of Holocaust survivors.

She read "voluminously and was scary smart," her son said. She spoke several languages and enjoyed playing cards.

After her husband's death in 2004, she moved to Atrium Village in Owings Mills, and since 2015 had resided at Springwell.

Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. today at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road, Pikesville.

She is survived by two other sons, Allan Pertman of Columbia and Henry Pertman of Owings Mills; a daughter, Rita Abel of Owings Mills; 11 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.