Bobby Friedman: Remembering Holocaust Survivors
Robert “Bobby” Friedman wrote the book, Till We Meet Again, a historical novel based on the life of his mother, Anne Altenhaus Friedman, and her sister, Mina, and their survival of the Holocaust.
“By the time I was old enough to know, I knew my mother had been through something horrible,” says Bobby. “Mom didn’t talk about it much, but when she did talk about it, it was never in a ‘woe-is-me’ manner.” In fact for a long time Anne Friedman didn’t speak about her nightmare story of surviving WWII. But with the curious questions from her son, Anne began to share her story.
Up until 1943 the Altenhauses were living a normal Jewish life in Belgium. Mr. Altenhaus was a well known tailor and his wife worked in medicine. Then the Germans invaded and changed the course of history. The Altenhauses lived in hiding for many months until one night a family friend outted them to the Nazis. The Nazi soldiers pounded down the door, removed the Altenhauses from their home, sending the two sisters to a Catholic convent. The Nazis told the nuns at the convent a truck would pick up the two girls the next morning. But the truck never came. Eventually, the nuns told the girls they could no longer stay at the convent. They spent many months moving from Catholic home to Catholic home and then finally they were put in an orphanage. The fate of their parents was unknown, but both held to the hope of seeing each other again.
The war in Europe officially ended on V.E. Day, May 8, 1945. In December, 1945, an American G.I. arrived at the orphanage carrying chocolates and oranges looking for Anne & Mina. It was their cousin Barney from New York, whom they had never met. He had inquired about the girls at the Antwerp City Hall but was not getting any information. A wealthy Jewish couple overheard Barney asking about the girls and was able to pull some strings and found the girls for him.
“Uncle Oscar, who was living in America, asked Barney to try and find the sisters, with intention of bringing them back to America,” says Bobby. “They finally sailed into New York harbor on July 3, 1946.”
When Anne Altenhaus arrived in America, she knew six languages. None of them were English. “Aunt Emma and Uncle Oscar took mom and Mina into their home in the Bronx,” says Bobby. Anne and Mina were introduced to the Fisher girls, who were similar in age and lived in the same apartment building. It was the Fisher girls who taught Mina and Anne English. “The Fisher girls would point to objects and say what they were,” says Bobby. “Keep in mind there were no special classes in school, like in today’s school system. They were just thrown in to a totally new surrounding with the rest of the kids.”
Anne spent the rest of her life living in the States with various trips back to Belgium. She met her late husband Thomas Friedman on a blind date in Miami. They had four boys: Bobby, Brian, Bruce and Barry.
In writing Till We Meet Again, Bobby says, “I am telling the story of my mother and the other Jews who survived. In the next few years there won’t be many survivors left. But I hope this book will keep the story alive for this generation,” says Bobby. “Just as the survivors said, ‘Don’t forget,’ I don’t want those in future generations to forget what happened.”
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