Lenka (Lili) Lax was born on January 20, 1924, in Zarice, Czechoslovakia (now Zarichchya, Ukraine), to an orthodox Jewish couple, Yitzhak (Ignatz) and Miriam Berger Lax. She had 6 siblings: Miri, Celia, b. March 19, 1922, Faige, b. November 12, 1926, Eva, b. September 6, 1928, Mechel, b. 1929, and Eliyahu (Eli), b. 1930. Her father Yitzhak was born December 7, 1888, to Eli and Sprince Lax in Zarice where his family had lived for generations. Her mother’s parents were Mechel and Ruchel Berger and she had 5 sisters: Faige, Scheindl, Malka, Etel, and Shprintza. Yitzhak was a traveling salesman and a rebbe, or religious teacher, at a yeshiva in Irsava (Irshava, Ukraine). Lili’s oldest sister Miri died at age 7. Her mother Miriam died of cancer in 1936. Yitzhak did not remarry and raised his children by himself. They were close to their large extended family. Lili’s maternal aunt Faige, who had five children, lived next door and cared for them when Yitzhak was away. In 1937, Lili’s sister Celia left for America with the help of a cousin.
In 1939, Hungary annexed the Subcarpathian Rus in Czechoslovakia, which included Zarice. The Hungarians imposed harsh anti-Semitic restrictions. The Jewish school was closed and radios were forbidden. In 1941, Lili’s sister Celia sent money and emigration papers for Yitzhak, Mechel, and Eli, but in August, he learned he could not get visas due to the US quota. Lili was sent to Budapest to work in the factory of a family friend to help support the family. In 1943, they no longer received mail and lost contact with Celia. In March 1944, Germany occupied Hungary. The same month, Lili got a letter from Yitzhak to return from Budapest and she arrived a few days before Passover in early April. The next day, the school principal told them that there was nothing he could do to help them and they were to be taken away by the Germans. The police loaded them in wagons that took them to Irsava ghetto. They were crowded into a house with two of Lili’s maternal aunts and their families. After about 3 weeks, they were taken to Munkacs ghetto (Mukacheve, Ukraine). As they marched from the train to the ghetto, the Hungarian police ripped the beards off the men. Lili and her siblings cut their father’s beard before he was harmed. The police told them to surrender all valuables or they would shoot 10 young boys, including Lili’s cousin, so her family begged people to give up their belongings. They were put in an old brick factory. They built a shack for shelter, but the police repeatedly tore it down. There was little food and Yitzhak fainted because he gave his rations to his sons. About a month later, they were marched back to the train. The Hungarian police beat the men, but Lili stuck her arm out to protect her father.
In late May or early June, after three days in the cattle car with no food or water, they arrived in Auschwitz. The Germans started separating people and it was chaotic. Lili, Faige, and their maternal cousin Lili Berkovitz were separated from Eva, their father, and brothers. Eva was carrying their 2 year old cousin Ruchela. The child was ripped from her arms and thrown to the ground. Eva was forced to leave her behind and found her sisters. The girls were sent to the baths and told to strip. This was against their religious beliefs and they refused to disrobe in front of the male guards, but were ordered to comply. Their heads were shaved and they were issued uniforms. They were put in overcrowded barracks and fed inedible soup. Lili asked the woman in charge of the block what had happened to their families. She pointed out the chimneys and said they had been killed and burned. Lili refused to believe this and kept the hope that they were alive. After 3 days, Lili, Faige, Eva, and Lili were selected for labor and transferred to Płaszów slave labor camp in Krakow. They were counted every morning and sent on different labor details. Shortly after arrival, they were forced to burn Torahs and other Jewish religious texts. They were later assigned to carry large pieces of lumber and were chased by dogs if they did not walk fast enough. Eva was very small, so Lili and Faige helped her. An SS officer told a Jewish kapo to beat the women. He refused, and the officer commanded the dogs to attack and he was killed. Lili and her sisters were assigned to dig ditches. The Germans brought a truck of political prisoners from Krakow and shot them. They fell into the ditches and Lili and the other prisoners had to burn the bodies.
As the Soviets approached in September 1944, Lili and the others were returned to Auschwitz. Fifteen people died during the three day train ride. They were not assigned to work and had little food. After 3 weeks, Lili was tattooed with the prisoner number A-18649. They were transported to a slave labor camp in Neustadt in Oberschlesien (Prudnik, Poland). They worked in a weaving factory and Lili was put in charge of their block. In January 1945, as the Soviets approached, the camp was evacuated. They were sent on a death march in the bitter cold, arriving after 3 weeks in Gross-Rosen concentration camp. They were loaded on cattle cars after a week and sent to Bergen-Belsen. The train was bombed in Weimar and many women were injured. Bergen-Belsen had a typhus epidemic and women died every day of illness. Lili and her cousin Lili were put on a work detail, sorting through clothes. Lili found a dead infant in the clothes and became hysterical, but her cousin told her to calm down because her sisters needed her. On April 15, 1945, Bergen-Belsen was liberated by British soldiers.
Lili, Eva, Faige, and Lili had typhus and were taken to a hospital in nearby Celle to recuperate. They wanted to return to Czechoslovakia to look for their family, but a Czech captain told them that their families and homes were gone. Their entire extended family perished in the Holocaust. They decided to stay in Celle displaced persons camp and found another cousin, Rosie Silverstein. Lili felt they survived because they held onto and helped each other however they could. In June 1945, Lili met Ludwig Frydman. He was born on November 30, 1924, in Sevlus, Czechoslovakia, and survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. The couple was married on January 27, 1946, in the synagogue in Celle by Rabbi Olewski. In June, Faige wore Lili’s wedding dress when she married Motek (Max) Seifentraeger (1921-1997.) Celia saw a notice about her sisters in the NY Jewish Forward placed by their cousin Jack. She began sending care packages. In February 1947, Faige and Max left for New York. In April 1947, Lili and Ludwig had a daughter, Miriam. On February 21, 1948, Lili, Ludwig, Miriam, and Eva sailed from Bremen on the SS Marine Flasher, arriving in New York on March 3. They settled in Brooklyn near Lili’s three sisters. They Americanized their last name to Friedman, Lili became Lilly, and Ludwig went by Aaron. Lilly and Aaron had two more children, both boys. Aaron worked as a carpenter, then a butcher, and eventually they opened a jewelry store. Aaron, 67, died on February 19, 1992, in Brooklyn.
Ludwig (Aaron) Frydman was born on November 30, 1924, in Sevlus, Czechoslovakia (now Vynohradiv, Ukraine), to Michal and Gizella Hoffman Frydman. He had 11 siblings: Aleksander, b. 1917, Yevgeni, b. 1919, Aranka, b. 1921, Abragam, b. 1921, Margarita, b. 1923, Yakob, b. 1928, Maria, b. 1930, Edita, b. 1932, Liviya, b. 1934, and two others. Sevlus was a city in Subcarpathian Rus, which was annexed by Hungary in 1939. By 1940, all Jewish males were eligible for mandatory forced labor service. In 1943, Ludwig may have been sent to Munkacs (Mukacheve, Ukraine) with a labor battalion. On March 19, 1944, Germany occupied Hungary. The Hungarians now cooperated with the Germans in the systemic deportation of all Jews in Hungary to concentration camps. The Jewish population was gathered into regional centers. Ludwig was imprisoned in Munkacs ghetto. By summer, he was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp. He was later transferred to Bergen-Belsen. The camp was liberated on April 15, 1945, by British forces.
After liberation, Ludwig lived at the displaced persons camp established near the former concentration camp. He learned that five of his siblings had survived the war. They eventually emigrated to Palestine. His parents and seven other siblings perished.
While in the DP camp, Ludwig would go to neighboring farms and milk the cows to bring milk back to share with other camp residents. He was arrested by the British for stealing the milk and assigned to a work detail in the kitchen of Bergen-Belsen displaced persons camp. In June 1945, Ludwig met Lili Lax when she came to the kitchen to get her rations. Lili was born on January 20, 1924, in Zarici, Czechoslovakia (Zarichchya, Ukraine), and had survived imprisonment in Auschwitz, Płaszów, Neustadt in Oberschlesien, Gross-Rosen, and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, along with her two sisters, Faige and Eva, and cousin Lili. Ludwig, who they called Aaron, began to bring Lili and her sisters extra food. She was initially not interested, but Ludwig was persistent. The couple was engaged on November 30, 1945, Ludwig’s 21st birthday. Lili had always dreamed of being married in a white wedding dress. Ludwig found a former German airman with a white rayon parachute and he bartered his coffee and cigarette rations for it. Lili and Ludwig were married on January 27, 1946, by a rabbi in the synagogue in Celle. They lived with Lili’s sisters and cousin in the town. In April 1947, Lili and Ludwig had a daughter, Miriam.
Lili had a sister Celia in Brooklyn, who had immigrated before the war. She saw an ad placed in the New York Jewish Forward saying that her sisters were alive. She began sending care packages and worked to help them to emigrate to America. In February 1947, Lili’s sister Faige and her husband Max Seifentraeger left for New York. On February 21, 1948, Lili, Ludwig, and Miriam, along with Lili’s sister Eva, sailed from Bremen on the SS Marine Flasher, arriving in New York on March 3. The family settled in Brooklyn near Lili’s three sisters. They Americanized their last name to Friedman, Lili became Lilly, and Ludwig went by Aaron. Lilly and Aaron had two more children, both boys. Aaron worked as a carpenter, then a butcher, and eventually they opened a jewelry store. Aaron, 67, died on February 19, 1992, in Brooklyn.