If people like me do not proclaim their experiences for others to hear and to reflect upon, then future generations will not learn the lessons of these, perhaps the darkest, moments of our history.

- Freda Wineman

Freda was born in September 1923 in Metz, Lorraine in north-eastern France. She lived there for eight years with her mother, father and her three brothers, David, Marcel and Armand before the family moved to Sarreguemines, near the eastern border with Germany. Freda’s family were Orthodox Jewish.

War between France and Germany was declared on the 3rd of September 1939, just days before Freda’s sixteenth birthday. The declaration of war meant that the family’s home near the border was no longer safe, and they moved again, 200km south. With the German army slowly encroaching it soon became a terrifying reality that Freda and her family would be in danger. This danger came to fruition in 1942 when the Vichy government in the southern part of France introduced anti-Jewish laws, and the whole of France had been completely occupied by the Nazis.

Freda’s mother was able to find a safe place to take in her family, a convent. However, the family did not make it to the convent before they were arrested on the 17th May 1944. The arrest had happened by chance when Freda’s mother was stopped by the Vichy police (the Milice). The ration books she was carrying for each family member identified them as Jewish and Freda’s mother was arrested on the spot. The Milice reported this to the Gestapo who came for each of the other family members. Freda was on her way home from work when she was warned not to return home but did any way in an attempt to rescue her younger brothers. She and her brothers were arrested. Freda was taken to the Gestapo offices where she was interrogated. Even after being badly beaten, she did not give up the location of any of her other family members.

Despite Freda’s efforts her entire family were eventually found, and they were put on a train to Drancy, near Paris. They were taken to a crowded housing estate with thousands of others and after a few days were taken to Drancy station where they were forced inside cattle trucks. The cattle trucks were unbelievably crowded, and the hot summer days inside the train were unbearable.

After three days the train arrived at its destination. Auschwitz concentration camp. Men in striped clothing helped them off the cattle trucks and into a line, whispering that younger women must give their babies to older women. Freda’s mother kindly took a baby from a young Dutch woman and stood with Freda and her youngest son Marcel. Freda’s father, older brother David and younger brother Armand were separated from them. This was the last time Freda saw her father. Freda was selected with other young women and Freda’s mother, younger brother and the little Dutch baby she was carrying went the other way. Although she did not know at the time, they had been sent to be murdered.

Freda was taken away, whereafter she would be tattooed, made to shower, and have her hair shaved. She was given old clothes and odd shoes. Freda remembers trading her first piece of bread in Auschwitz for a toothbrush in an attempt to keep clean. This would turn out to be an extremely difficult feat as most of the inmates would soon succumb to the effects of the unsanitary conditions and lack of food.

On the 17th of August 1944, Freda was selected to work in the Kanada Kommando where she was forced to sort through the possessions of all those that entered Auschwitz. Young women who worked there would often attempt to smuggle items out of the sorting warehouse, such a extra clothing, something that was strictly forbidden. One day a group of women were caught and hanged as punishment. Freda was also punished and was now forced to work digging trenches outside the crematorium under the watchful eye of the SS guards. The work was back breaking and everyday was becoming more difficult.

On the 30th of October 1944 Freda was selected with many other women to travel to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The journey by cattle truck took several days. Upon arrival the condition of most of the inmates had become dire, Freda felt that she had been left to die inside Bergen-Belsen. However, on the 3rd of February 1945, she and 750 other women were taken to camp named Raguhn, a satellite camp of Buchenwald concentration camp where she worked as a welder in an aeroplane factory.

With the advance of the Allies, Freda did not stay at Raguhn for long before she was put onto another cattle truck. On her journey the train was bombed, and as the guard panicked, Freda attempted to escape twice but was caught and threatened by the guard. On the 20th of April 1945 Freda arrived in Theresienstadt, emaciated, and dying. Fortunately, Freda’s life was saved when a doctor was found to provide her with medicine.

Freda was liberated by the Russian army on the 9th of May 1945. As she was French, she was eventually moved to Pilsen where she came under care of the American army. From Pilsen she was repatriated to Lyons where she was immediately taken to a hospital.

After the war Freda reconnected with her two brothers, David and Armand, who had also survived. They were all now orphans and burdened by the horrors of their experiences had to find a way to survive again without their parents. Freda also managed to reconnect with some of her cousins that lived in England and visited them frequently. On one of these trips Freda met her husband David and eventually moved to England.

Freda believed in sharing her experiences in order to educate future generations about the Holocaust. She became a dear friend and supporter of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum in later life and gave her testimony for as long as she was able. We endeavour to protect her testimony and her memory and use it to continue to educate people for years to come.