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.