Holocaust survivor Morris Freschman survived four years of captivity in numerous concentration camps before being liberated by a black unit of the U.S. Army. Freschman told the story of how his entire family was murdered during the Nazi occupation of Poland to more than 100 students at Caesar Rodney High School on Tuesday.
Holocaust survivor Morris Freschman survived four years of captivity in numerous concentration camps before being liberated by a black unit of the U.S. Army.
Freschman told the story of how his entire family was murdered during the Nazi occupation of Poland to more than 100 students at Caesar Rodney High School on Tuesday, C.R. School District spokesman Ron Gough said.
American soldiers liberated the camp that imprisoned him on April 12, 1945, the same day President Franklin Roosevelt died, Freschman said.
“The liberation actually began on April 11th, when we heard the guns nearby,” he told a quiet Caesar Rodney auditorium. “When we woke up on April 12th, most of the guards were gone. The first American I ever saw – and will never forget – was a 6-foot-4 Negro.”
It was the first time he had ever seen a black person. Yet, these men would liberate him and his fellow prisoners.
Born in Sarnov, Poland in May 1929, Morris was one of eight children to born to David and Ida Freschman, who owned a local bread bakery.This story was clarified to more accurately portray how Holocaust survivor Morris Freschman received his tattoo from the German Nazis.
The Germans invaded his town on Sept. 3, 1939, he said. Two weeks later, the Germans started gathering up all of the people in his town and created a 12-block ghetto.
Early one morning in 1941, the Gestapo put all of residents, including Morris’s parents, three sisters and four brothers, into cattle cars and transferred them to Blechhammer, Poland, which was a dual concentration/labor camp. Blechhammer was a satellite camp of the infamous Auschwitz extermination camp, and one side of it was for those that would be exterminated: women, children and the sick. The other side of the camp was for labor.
“The first thing the Germans did was tattoo a number on my arm (177060),” he said. “This number represents that there were 177059 people ahead of me. To this day, I carry this number as a memory of what they did.”
At Blechhammer, his mother, father, three sisters and four brothers were executed. Morris would be the only survivor of his family.
He was only 12 years old.
Since the Germans would execute those who were malnourished or weak, cardboard was put around Freschman’s body to fatten’ him up. He also wore Belgian clog shoes to make him look taller.
“Every day, you saw death, wherever you turned,” Freschman said. “All you did was pray that you could live another hour, another day. It was really tough, always looking behind your back and not becoming obvious to the guards, who would either shoot you or send you to the gas chambers.”
In June of 1944, when the Russians were approaching from the Eastern Front, the prisoners were subjected to a four-day death march, in a blizzard, to the Gross-Rosen concentration camp in Poland. Seven months later, in January 1945, Morris was once again transported by cattle car to the Buchenwald concentration camp near Weimer, Germany.
By April 1945, the Americans had arrived.
Since Morris spoke English, German and Polish, the American liberators asked Morris to join them as an interpreter. He immediately enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in a Medical Army Surgical Hospital (MASH) unit for one year.
In 1946, Morris immigrated to the United States, settling in Wilmington where he owned the Boxwood Sub Shop. In later years, he would open Freschies Deli in the New Castle Farmers Market.
C.R. English teacher Kathleen Swierzbinski said it was important for students to hear first hand testimonies of the atrocities that occurred during World War II.“Hearing from these survivors gives their stories a voice and hopefully teaches a new generation of students to accept diversity and promote tolerance,” she said.
Among other questions, students asked Freschman if he had ever forgiven the Germans for what they did?
“You cannot keep a grudge, you cannot have hate because it destroys people,” he said. “You have to forgive people or it will destroy you.
“You are exceptionally lucky young people that you are in this country. Six million Jewish people, five million Christian people, 22 million Germans, 60 million worldwide died in World War II,” he counted. “You are the future of America, you are the future of the world. God bless you all.”