Louis Frieberg

 

Louis FriebergBorn on December 4, 1917 in the town of Mielec, Poland, Lou was the oldest of four children. Lou’s father, Yitzhak, who was a construction contractor, emigrated to Israel where he died in 1965. His mother, Frima-Ida, was the backbone of the family and the most important and influential person in Lou’s life. Educated at the heder, he was raised in a conservative and strict environment, where he was expected to be a role model for his brothers, Elimelech, who emigrated to Israel, and then to Canada where he died in 1996; Shmuel, who was murdered in the great transport; and Bernard-Dov, who lives in Australia. Lou has always remembered his mother’s message that when he grew up he was “to be considerate and give back to the people – Man does not live by bread alone” (Deut. 8:3)

Early in 1939, Lou was drafted into the Polish Army and in June of that year he was stationed in the town of Silisia on the Polish-German border. His entire regiment was captured in September 1939 and was sent to a stalag at Luckenwalde, 35km east of Berlin, as prisoners of war.
 
Approximately one year later the Germans sent the Jewish prisoners home, where they were quickly rounded up by the SS and sent to concentration camps. Lou was sent to a Heinkelwerke airplane factory which built twin engine bombers and scavenged parts from single engine and damaged fighter planes. In 1943, with the success of the Russian offensive, the SS and Gestapo liquidated the camp and all the men were transferred to Flosenburg, a camp in southern Germany (part of Czechoslovakia until 1938).
 
In April 1945, two weeks before the Germans surrendered, the head of the SS/Gestapo at the factory where Lou was working stopped at his work station and remarked that he was doing his job improperly.
 
In response, Lou stood up for himself and said that he was working according to the instructions of the factory’s foreman and engineer. Lou and the officer proceeded to have a conversation and the topic of philosophy came up. Lou told him that his favorite was the 18th century philosopher Heinrich Heine and that his favorite quote was “Magdie sonne sheinen noch so schon einmahl muss ie untergehn” (sic), which means “May the sun shine as beautiful as possible at the end of the day she has to go under” (sic). When the officer said he had never heard of Heinrich Heine, Lou explained that Heine was a Jew and in 1938 during Kristallnacht all his works were burned. Lou could have been shot for his insubordination. Instead the next day when the officer was making his daily inspection he stopped at Lou’s work station, and said. “Do you see that far corner? There is a sandwich waiting for you.”
 
After his liberation at the end of May 1945, Lou traveled to Auschwitz where he climbed on the roof of the crematorium and went to the chimney. He closed his eyes and put his hands inside the chimney and scooped some ashes out and released them into the air. When he opened his eyes, he had a vision of his mother walking towards him with gold shoes on her feet and wearing her Shabbat clothes and finest jewelry. He has never had another vision of her.
 
For a while after the war, Lou lived in the city of Bayreuth. He originally wanted to immigrate to the US but was told by the American embassy that there would be a 15 year wait, so he applied for immigration to Canada instead. He was then 30 years old. In Canada he found a job as a construction worker and, in a short time, became a successful businessman owning many businesses in Toronto, Ottawa and the US.
 
Lou first became involved with the Hebrew University in 1968 and immediately felt drawn to the institution. That feeling has grown into a life long attachment. Today he calls the Hebrew University, with much affection, “My baby.” He made his first trip to Israel in 1970 and visits at least once a year.
 
In 1989 Lou established the Louis Frieberg Chair in East Asian Studies and received an honorary fellowship. His ongoing interest in East Asia has led to the establishment today of the Louis Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies, the actualization of a longtime goal.

Meeting Louis Frieberg: Reminiscences of Professor Irene Eber

 

 Louis Frieberg Center for East Asian Studies

A Story of Coincidences

Irene Eber

A not unusual event occurred in 1997 during my tenure as chair of the Department of Asian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Professor G. had found a potential Canadian donor and wanted to introduce him to members of the department as well as important personalities from various university departments.

A breakfast was arranged at the King David Hotel and as department chair I was also invited. I was told that this donor was particularly interested in trade with China and that I should present an especially attractive picture of our Asian department. It was important that the donor receive a favorable impression of the department's activities and its interesting commercial relations. I had promised to do my best, even if commerce was not one of my major interests. By the time I arrived at the King David everyone was already seated and the only place still available was across the long table from the donor.

He was a good looking man named Lejzer (Lazar) Frieberg, perhaps in his sixties and was a wealthy builder of high rise buildings. He spoke accented English and was obviously not a native Canadian. There were the usual laudatory speeches to which he replied graciously, and I soon ceased to listen having participated in similar meetings already for several months. At some point I looked across the table; he had his hands folded and his wrists were exposed. On his right one quite visible was the tattoo "KL". I went into an immediate state of shock, staring at the tattoo, which I knew well. My sister had the same "KL" on her right wrist that was given at the work camp "Cyranka Berdechow", located in the vicinity of Mielec, my native town. Perhaps "KL" was also used in other work camps, there were quite a number in the vicinity of Mielec. But in Cyranka Berdechow were also other members of my family and it was the camp where the evil Rudi Zimmerman killed Jews with abandon. It was a work camp and its function was road construction under the supervision of two families, named Baeumer und Loesch. The "KL" stood for Koncentrations  Lager or concentration camp, although this was a work camp and not a concentration camp.

Breakfast over, it was time to say good bye. I had waited anxiously for this moment needing to ask Frieberg were he was from and if he had been in Cyranka Berdechow. His answer was simple, He was from Mielec and his entire family was in the camp. I told him then I too was from Mielec, of the Geminder family. He then told me something completely stunning that left me speechless. These were his words, "My brother Mejleh was engaged to your cousin Malka Kurtz". Now Malka was Reuven and Fejge Kurtz's daughter and Fejge was my father's sister. Had Mejleh married Malka the Friebrg family would have become part of the Kurtz family. Unfortunately, this never happened. War and destruction put an end to it.

We two people stood silently across from each other. Words could not express the emotion we felt.

Is there anything we can learn from such a story? We can, indeed. Historic details must be seen within a context, only then can we determine if they make sense or not.

The Louis Frieberg Center of Asian Studies.