Holocaust survivor shares his experience

 

Imagine living in a country where you can trace your ancestors back more than 400 years, yet still be declared an enemy and tortured because of your beliefs.

Imagine attempting to escape your former home by boat, only to be turned away by nearly every country you attempt to enter.

It is difficult to imagine, but Col. Phil Freund endured those hardships during his childhood.

Freund

Freund spoke about surviving these hardships and other parts of the Holocaust to an audience of more than 200 people on April 9 in Timmerman Auditorium in Hyland Hall.

Senior Becca Marks is president of the Jewish Student Organization, which sponsored the event.

“I think it’s important to have an event like this, because Holocaust survivors aren’t going to be around forever,” Marks said. “It’s good to take these opportunities while they are available.”

Freund was born in Munich, Germany in 1931, two years before Hitler’s election. By 1935 in Nuremburg, Jewish people were no longer considered citizens.

His father was a very loyal German citizen and was a soldier for the German army during World War I. He advanced through the ranks to first lieutenant after clearing out an entire French pillbox by himself.

However, when his father left for Holland for business, the gestapo accused him of stealing money from his company, and he was killed in Dachau concentration camp, Freund said.

For Freund, this was just the beginning of a life of tragedy.

After hiding in his father’s platoon sergeant’s barn and working on his farm, Freund was able to leave Germany from Hamburg on the MS St. Louis in May of 1939. The ship sailed about six months after Kristallnacht, a time when government-sponsored riots in Germany led to synagogues being burned down, Jewish stores being destroyed and all men 16 and older being sent to concentration camps, Freund said.

While boarding the ship should have been a relief to Freund, it became another disappointment.

The MS St. Louis was turned away in Cuba, and the American government refused to help the 937 Jewish refugees. The refugees had to return to Europe and spread across England, France, Belgium and the Netherlands.

Freund and his family decided to go to England, were they were still regarded as “enemy aliens,” Freund said.

Eventually, on Christmas Eve of 1939, Freund and his family made it to the United States. They lived in New York, but Freund could not read, write or speak English.

Freund said coming to a country without an understanding of what was happening around him was the most difficult part of coming to America.

However, in a way that would make even the most hardened person swell with emotion, Freund overcame his difficulties and spent 40 years in the military after learning to read by practicing in libraries. Before he retired from the Army, he advanced all the way to colonel.

Freund is thankful for the opportunities the Army gave him.

“I never dreamed in my wildest dreams when I joined the Army that I would become a full colonel,” Freund said. “Every day, I thank the good Lord for getting me here.”

Freund described how proud he was to be an American and live in a country where an immigrant can come from another country and get the opportunities that were presented to him.

“I’m so appreciative of what this country has given me,” Freund said.  “I place America before anything else.”

Freund published a book, “Denied Entry: A Survivor’s Journey of Fate, Faith and Freedom,” about his experiences on the St. Louis in 2011 with his wife, Belle Anne Freund.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email