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Herbert Friedman, who escaped the Holocaust and later became a successful pharmacist, dies

Herbert Friedman was an eyewitness to Kristallnacht.
Herbert Friedman was an eyewitness to Kristallnacht. (Handout / HANDOUT)

Herbert Friedman, an Austrian Jew who escaped the Holocaust and served in the U.S. Army in World War II and the Korean War and later became a successful pharmacist, died Oct. 1 from heart failure at the Gilchrist Center in Towson. The Pikesville resident was 95.

“As a survivor of Hitler’s Holocaust, if I were asked to choose a single word to describe the course of the Holocaust it would be a single four-letter word: Hate,” Mr. Friedman wrote in lecture notes. “Anti-Semitism is the hatred of the Jewish people, was and is, regrettably, an essential element of European society.”

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Mr. Friedman experienced anti-Semitism at an early age as a child growing up in Vienna, where he was born and raised, the son of David Friedman, a custom shoemaker, and his wife, Ida Friedman, a homemaker.

“It was either in the 1st or 2nd grade in elementary school in Vienna, when another boy called me a ‘Christ killer.’ I did not know what that was. When I went home I asked my mother, ‘What is a Christ killer?’ " he wrote. “She told me it was hateful anti-Semitism. This was my introduction to prejudice at an early age.”

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When Mr. Friedman was 13, he and a friend were recognized as heroes for saving the life of a 19-year-old suicidal woman, distraught over a failed love affair, who threw herself into the Wien River. A newspaper account told of how the two boys had waded into freezing waters and managed to save the woman’s life.

“Austria was even anti-Semitic before Hitler came. Jews were always characterized as being cowards," Mr. Friedman explained in a 2016 interview with the Jewish Times.

“There was a big disagreement going on between newspapers because it just so happened that the people who ran down the embankment and into the water were two Jews!” he said. “And the one who ran to get the ambulance was Christian. I have articles at home which describe attacking the Christian newspapers for not recognizing the fact that the two boys who actually ran down were Jewish.”

Mr. Friedman was an eyewitness to Nazi persecution on Kristallnacht, Nov. 9, 1938, with attacks on Jewish homes, hospitals and schools, destruction of Jewish-owned businesses and the burning and looting of synagogues.

“It was just not the Gestapo — there were roving gangs who wanted to settle scores with Jews and entered homes,” said a son, Mark Friedman of Pikesville. “The Gestapo had come looking for his older brother and said they would come back later. They left my father alone because he was small and young.”

“My mother then asked me to run down the street (we lived on the fourth floor) to intercept my brother and tell him not to come home but to stay with a friend,” the elder Mr. Friedman told author Martin Gilbert for his book, “Kristallnacht: Prelude to Destruction.”

The next morning, Mr. Friedman was on his way to the Palestine office to check on the status of his application for emigration when he encountered a large jeering crowd outside a Jewish-owned bedding supply company, while the Gestapo looted mattresses, blankets and sheets and the police stood by refusing to intervene.

“The owner, Mr. Springer, just stood by watching, scared and trembling,” Mr. Friedman said, and when the man asked the Gestapo officer for a receipt, he yelled at the crowd, and said. "The Jew wants a receipt.”

He turned the frightened man around and kicked him down onto the pavement. Then the officer said, “There, Jew, this is your receipt.”

On Dec. 11, 1938, his 14th birthday, Mr. Friedman, who was one of 10,000 children selected for the Kindertransport, left Vienna for England, wearing the tag No. 325 around his neck. Only one family member was allowed to accompany a child to the railroad station.

“In Vienna, the parent was not allowed to enter the station or stand on the platform. Strictly forbidden,” Mr. Friedman explained in a 2000 interview with the Daily Press in Newport News, Virginia. “The child had to be dropped off at the front of the station. It was heartrending. to this day, I remember how terrible it was. Even thinking about it now, I feel like crying.”

As the train slowly steamed away from Vienna on his birthday, Mr. Friedman told the newspaper, “I consider it a present — it gave me life.”

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His parents were able to escape Vienna in 1939 and come to Baltimore, where they had relatives, while Mr. Friedman remained in an English orphanage. Before he could leave and rejoin his family, his father had to ensure the authorities he was earning enough money that his son would not have to go on welfare.

In the fall of 1940, and through the sponsorship of Baltimore’s Blaustein family, Mr. Friedman was able to leave England and join his family, who were living in lower Pimlico.

After graduating from Forest Park High School in 1943, he briefly worked at the Read’s Drug Store on Gay Street before enlisting in the Army Medical Corps as a medic and serving in the Pacific.

He was a 1950 graduate of he University of Maryland School of Pharmacy and was recalled to active duty in 1950 during the Korean War, overseeing the operation of the hospital pharmacy at Fort Lee in Petersburg, Virginia. He attained the rank of lieutenant.

In 1951, he married the former Joyce Herman, and after being discharged from the Army in 1952, he and his wife established Portlock Pharmacy in Chesapeake, Virginia, which they owned and operated for more than 30 years.

The couple lived in Norfolk until the early 1990s, when they moved to Pikesville, and for the last year were living at North Oaks Retirement Community in Pikesville.

Mr. Friedman’s grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins who perished in the concentration camps cast a permanent shadow over his life.

“He was a very serious man, because of it. He had lost his childhood as well as family and friends and could never be frivolous," his son said.

“He maintained an interest in world affairs and politics, but felt guilt from surviving," his son said. “Why me? He could never escape those thoughts.”

Mr. Friedman had recorded his Holocaust experiences for the Shoah Foundation, founded by film director Steven Spielberg. Its mission is to collect and preserve the memories of Holocaust survivors.

Mr. Friedman attended Beth El Congregation.

A virtual service was held Monday, with interment in the Chevra Ahavas Chessed Cemetery in Randallstown.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Friedman is survived by two other sons, Gary Friedman of Pikesville and Ron Friedman of Seattle; a sister, Lilli Sigel of Houston; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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