Holocaust survivor reached students’ hearts with her incredible story

Photo courtesy of Michael Riff, Ramapo College

As the ground shook and alarms blared loudly, echoing through the dark billows of smoke filling the air, chaos broke out all around the little city of Kiel, Germany. Five-year-old Maren began running as fast as she could, along with her sister and other children to the bomb shelter. She never knew when the air raids would come. 

“I only remember running, running between the apartment and the shelter,” said Maren Friedman, a Holocaust survivor who was invited by Professor Riff to speak to a group of Ramapo students from his class, Paradigms of Genocide, on Friday, Oct. 11. 

After getting a concussion, she was unconscious for ten days. Although her mother feared that her daughter would not be treated because they are Jewish, she took the risk and brought her to the doctor. 

“She’s a child and I am a doctor and that’s all we need to know,” the doctor said.

During the war, Jews were not allowed to celebrate their faith or heritage. She remembers there was only time for running. 

“The jogging suits that you guys now live in – that was our uniform,” said Friedman solemnly. “We slept in between the air raids.”

Another time, as the mothers and children were hiding in the shelter reserved for them, a strange mist seeped out from underneath the bottom of the door into the air – gas bombs. Maren and her sister were able to escape.

“I remember seeing all those empty baby carriages and all the mothers crying because their children were gone,” she said.

As the students hung on to Friedman’s every word, their hearts sank hearing the heartbreaking reality of the fate of so many innocent lives. Friedman continued to describe other types of bombs, such as phosphate bombs which would burn their skin if they tried to rub or scratch it. 

Friedman also recounted the first time she realized how serious the war was. She asked her mother about winning the war, to which she replied, “Darling, if they win the war, we will perish.” 

When she was 12 years old, Friedman traveled to the United States under “the Displaced Person quota on military transport ships, which were used to bring military personnel to Europe and us to New York.” In the States, she began 7th grade and continued her college education at William Paterson University, and later at Rutgers University for a master’s degree in social work. 

Toward the end of Friedman’s account of life during the war, she gave a call to action, which was clearly from her heart.

“This is what happens to ordinary citizens,” she said. “We can’t be silent. We have to do something… recognize that it can happen and work against it.”

“Being silent is just not an option and your generation will have to deal with whatever comes next.”

Her story painted the picture of WWII from a child’s eyes, running back and forth between air raids and not knowing the extent of the Nazis’ propaganda. Her inspiring call to action is one we need to hear today – will our generation speak up, or will we remain silent? 

Our generation is among the last who will have this honorable opportunity to hear first-hand the depth of the Holocaust and what survivors encountered. By hearing these stories and recounting them with others, the history stays alive.