David Friedmann was born on December 20, 1893, in Mahrisch Ostrau (Ostrava, Czech Republic), part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was the son of Heinrich, a tinsmith, born in 1864 in Kobiernice, and Sophie Rosenblum, born in 1856 in Czaniec. He lived in a modest home with three surviving siblings: Marie, born in 1888, Adolf, born in 1895, and Isidor, born in 1897. In 1911, Friedmann moved to Berlin where he studied etching with Hermann Struck and painting with Lovis Corinth. During World War One, Friedmann served from 1917-1918 in the Austro-Hungarian Army. He was decorated for his work as a combat artist, creating sketches on the frontlines. Following his return to Berlin, Friedmann exhibited at numerous galleries throughout Germany and Czechoslovakia. He achieved acclaim as a painter known for his portraits drawn from life. In 1924, his quick-sketching talent resulted in a secondary career as a freelance press artist for Berlin newspapers and other publications.
When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Friedmann's prewar career ended. As a Jew, he was prohibited from showing his work and had to close his studio. He was able to make a living painting apartments and renovating buildings, which was permitted because of his Czechoslovak citizenship. In 1937, he married Mathilde Fuchs, born October 17, 1901, and they had a daughter, Mirjam Helene, born September 23, 1938. After the Kristallnacht pogrom on November 9-10 1938, Friedmann and his wife, with their infant child, fled from Berlin to Prague. On March 15, 1939, German forces marched into Prague and annexed the region to the Third Reich. Friedmann created portraits of the governing officials and leading members of the Jewish Community of Prague, such as Jakob Edelstein and František Zelenka.
On October 16, 1941, Friedmann and his family were deported on the first transport from Prague to the Łódź Ghetto, renamed Litzmannstadt, in German occupied Poland. The Germans controlled the large Ghetto population with tactics such as the public execution by hanging of 18 Jews who tried to escape, a scene witnessed by Friedmann and his family. All Ghetto residents had to work to receive food rations, but death due to starvation and disease were the norm. Friedmann worked in Metall II designing jewelry, cigarette cases, and badges. He also sketched portraits of the leaders in exchange for provisions; otherwise the family would have perished. He created a series of artworks to document their fate and the infernal life in the Ghetto. He also contributed to the “The Chronicle of the Łódź Ghetto 1941-1944” kept by the Jewish Council.
During the evacuation of the Łódź Ghetto in late August 1944, Friedmann was separated from his family. He was sent, by train on August 29, to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where his wife and daughter were murdered. Upon his arrival, on September 2, Friedmann’s arm was tattooed with prisoner No. B-8600. He brought some artwork to show he was an artist, but it had to be discarded upon arrival in Birkenau. Laborers with special skills had a better chance of being sent to labor camps. Artists were not needed, but one day there was a call for musicians. Friedmann passed the audition and was sent to subcamp Gleiwitz I. There he had to compete as a violinist with concert masters, but he wasn't chosen and thus in danger. He painted a mural across the barracks wall that impressed the SS officers and his life was saved. Even though he was forced to create portraits of his persecutors, Friedmann saw his art as a form of resistance that diminished the power of evil and gave him the will to survive. Conditions in the camp were brutal. Meals were a single bowl of watery soup shared by two or three men. Inmates were often beaten, the sick were shipped to Birkenau death camp, and random executions were frequent. On Sundays, inmates had to carry 25 pounds of bricks for three miles. If anyone fell, the guards beat them with their rifles until they got up and finished. These scenes were carved into his memory to tear out at a later time and express in his art. After the Soviets mounted a winter offensive, the camp was evacuated on January 18, 1945. Inmates were forced on a death march to Blechhammer concentration camp. By the end of the march, Friedmann was unable to walk and reached the camp with the aid of the French doctor, Ohrenstein, and two Gruenberger brothers from Slovakia. Friedmann was liberated from Blechhammer by the Soviet Red Army on January 25, 1945.
None of his family survived. His brother, Adolf, who was married to a non-Jew, Kaethe Niesler, died under suspicious circumstances in a Catholic hospital in Berlin on June 29, 1941. His father had died before the war in 1935. His mother died of starvation on December 11, 1941, in the Ostrava Jewish Home for the Aged. Isidor, his wife Sali, and their two children were deported to Theresienstadt, then to Treblinka, and murdered October 10, 1942. Marie and her husband Eisig Feuer were deported to Theresienstadt, then Treblinka and murdered October 7, 1942.
The responsibility of bearing witness weighed heavily on Friedmann's conscience, even before his liberation. Upon returning to Prague, he painted the scenes that haunted his memories to bear witness and give voice to those who could not be heard, creating more than 100 artworks. From January 1946, he had exhibitions featuring his Holocaust themed work in Czechoslovakia, as well as in Palestine. He brought the exhibition to Western Bohemia, where the Germans were still living, and toured through several towns in the former Sudetenland. All German nationals were forced to view his work and pay admission; otherwise they would not receive their ration cards. In 1948, he married Hildegard Taussig, born in Berlin on April 6, 1921, a survivor of several concentration camps. The couple fled to Israel in 1949 because of the Stalinist policies of the Communist government and the increasing anti-Semitism. Friedmann defied an export prohibition and bribed a customs inspector in order to ship his artwork out of the country. In 1954, the couple immigrated to New York with their daughter, also named Miriam. Friedman embarked on a successful career in commercial art with General Outdoor Advertising Company Inc., and settled in St. Louis, Missouri. The family became U.S. citizens and Americanized their surname to one “n”. After retirement in 1962, Friedman returned to his art to show the world the persecution, torment, and agony inflicted by the Nazis. A series of paintings, drawings and etchings entitled, "Because They Were Jews!" became the first art collection to be accepted into the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He never ceased to bear witness about the Holocaust. Friedman died at the age of 86, on February 27, 1980, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Menachem (Meitek) Rubinstein (Menach Riwek Rubinshtein) was born on April 21, 1906, in Brzesc Kujawski, Poland, to Szalom and Breina Rubinshtein. Szalom was born in 1877 in Bresc Kujawski to Mindel and Yehudit. Breina was born in 1875 in Lubin. Menachem had at least four sisters: Genia, born in 1903, Cerka (1905-1906), Niunia, born in 1907, and Bracha, born in 1910. Menachem lived in Łódź, where he married Hadasa in 1939.
Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and occupied Łódź one week later. Menachem and Hadasa had a son, Dawid Gedalia, who was born on February 1, 1940. The Germans renamed the city Litzmannstadt and, in early February 1940, established a Ghetto to segregate the Jewish population. Over 160,000 Jews were forced to live in the small area, closed off from the rest of the city by barbed wire fencing. Menachem worked as a mechanic. Living conditions were horrendous. Disease and starvation were commonplace and over twenty percent of the population died as a result of the conditions in the Ghetto. Dawid died at the age of three. Hadasa also perished. Menachem was deported to Auschwitz concentration camp before the complete liquidation of the Ghetto by the Germans at the end of August 1944. He continually volunteered for work assignments, feeling that as long as he was useful, he would be kept alive. Menachem was transferred to Gleiwitz I, a brutal Auschwitz subcamp. One day during roll call, Menachem's cap was blown off. When he stooped to pick it up, the capo hit him in the jaw with his rifle butt, causing Menachem to swallow his teeth. On January 18, 1945, the Germans evacuated the camp because Soviet forces were approaching. The inmates were forced on a death march to Blechhammer slave labor camp. Most of the inmates were liberated by the Russians on January 25, 1945.
The war ended on May 7, 1945. Menachem returned to Łódź. All of his family was murdered during the Holocaust. His father and mother were deported to Chelmno extermination camp and killed in 1942. His sisters had married and most moved to different villages: Genia Gabrylevicz was murdered in Brzesc; Niunia Margules and her three year old Miriam were deported from Łódź and killed in Auschwitz in 1944; her husband Natan also perished. Bracha Drezner was deported from Wloclawek and killed in Auschwitz in 1944; her young son and husband Ben also perished.
After 1946, Menachem left Poland for France. He met a Polish woman in a displaced persons camp and they married. She had had twin sons before the war in Poland. She and her husband decided to take one son with them when they were deported and place the other son in hiding with a Catholic farmer. Her husband and son were killed, but after the war, she was reunited with the son who had been hidden, now age sixteen. They emigrated to Israel by 1950. Many years later, Menahchem's wife died and he remarried a woman who had emigrated from Israel ot the US. Menachem passed away at the age of 76 on October 30, 1982, in Miami, Florida.