One freezing night in 1940, Sam Freiman awoke with a start. Someone was banging onthe front door. It was the Nazis. He was 13 years old. Sam’s father was a saddler and bootmaker. Sam’s mother took care of the house. They celebrated all the festivals. Sam always loved Chanukah – the candles, the fried food and latkes.
Now Sam shivered with cold and terror as the whole village – men, women and children– were dragged from their beds. He held tight to his mother and father while they were forced into army trucks. Hours later, the trucks came to a halt. The Warsaw Ghetto. There was nothing to eat. Sam quickly learned how to sneak past the guards. He had to be careful – to be caught smuggling food meant certain death. Sam’s father realised that staying put meant certain death too. He told his son to run. A farmer and his wife let Sam sleep in their barn if he looked after the cows. It couldn’t last. Sam was captured and thrown into a forced labour camp. He made shells for anti-aircraft guns. “There was no real food. Just this watery soup, and a tiny piece of what they called ‘bread’. I’d steal cigarettes from the guards and swap them for something to eat fromthe kitchens. They’d have shot me if they found out. As for remembering festivals like Chanukah and the other yom tovs – we didn’t even know what day it was. “One day they crammed us into cattle trucks. They took us to Buchenwald concentration camp. Finally they moved us to Theresienstadt. That’s when they really tried to kill us.”
“Then the Russians arrived. I was put on a plane to England. They sent me to a camp for displaced persons in the Lake District. The people there did their best, but how couldthey understand what I’d been through? They thought I was still a child.” “I’m a survivor. I have no idea why. ”Today, Sam Freiman is an upbeat 88-year-old. He still loves Chanukah. This year, he’ll be lighting the candles with his friends at Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre. That’s how I know Sam. I’m the manager of the centre, and I see him every Wednesday. He’s an amazing man. He loves the Yiddish group, and always joins in the singing. Like many of our clients, he loves the food here too.
Sam’s one of 600 Holocaust survivors who depend on the centre. They have different levels of religious observance, but festivals are very important to each one of them. I think that’s because they had to fight so hard to keep hold of theirJewish identity. We help make sure they always can. Many of our survivors are on their own now. Some have lost their wives and husbands. As they get older, the centre becomes more and more important to all of them. It is a place where they can come and be themselves. Where everyone understands the terrible torment they’ve been through, whether they want to talk about it or not. And if they do, they can get all the professional help they need, for as long as they need it, at the Shalvata Centre.
Every week, 7,000 people and their families count on Jewish Care. We help them to carry on living in their own homes as they get older; look after them in our care homes whenthey can no longer manage on their own; and stop them from becoming isolated. We also care for hundreds of people who are living with dementia – which can be especially important for Holocaust survivors, given the terrible things they have witnessed.
We receive no government funding to keep the centre going. We rely entirely on support from people like you. We need to be there for every single one of those people. And we need your help to do it.
Sam is in robust health now, but our community is ageing. Please make sure we are always there to bring light into his life. Please donate today. And please be as generous as you can.
Manager, Holocaust Survivors’ Centre
Find out more about our Services for Holocaust Survivors and Refugees.