Freda Wineman BEM

Born Freda Silberberg in north-eastern France, Freda moved at age 8 to Sarreguemines situated on France’s eastern border with Germany. Freda’s family - her parents and three brothers - were orthodox Jews. Their town was evacuated in 1939 and World War II was declared on the eve of Freda’s 16th birthday. Her family found themselves homeless and on the run from the German army who were advancing toward France. By 1942 France was occupied by the German forces and Freda’s entire family were living in constant fear.

On 17th May 1944 their worst fears came true. The family were identified as Jewish, reported to the Gestapo and arrested. They were forced into a cattle truck packed with 120 other people in foul and inhumane conditions and after three days and nights, arrived at Auschwitz. In an initial ‘selection’, Freda was separated from her father whom she never saw again.

Freda was then separated from her mother and brother Marcel. She believes she was picked out because of the bright red coat she was wearing. She was tattooed with prisoner number A.7181 and endured harsh labour and humiliating treatment. She describes watching thousands of people arrive at Auschwitz every day — most of whom would be directed straight to the gas chambers. Freda describes how “keeping going from day to day became the hardest thing of all.”

On 30th October 1944, Freda was among 1,200 women who were moved to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp — again by cattle truck. On 3rd February 1945 she was moved again, this time to Raguhn, a satellite of Ravensbrück concentration camp where she worked exhausting hours in an aeroplane factory as a welder. Freda would then be moved one final time to Theresienstadt, as part of the Nazis’ attempt to cover up their actions. She arrived there on 20th April 1945. 250 others who had started the journey did not finish it.

On May 9th 1945, Theresienstadt was liberated by the Russian army. Freda found out that her parents and her brother Marcel, perished at Auschwitz. She returns to France and was admitted to hospital in Lyon with typhoid — the disease that had been rampant at Theresienstadt. She recovered by August at which point she was reunited with her two surviving brothers, David and Armand. Orphaned and with nowhere to live, they eventually settled together in Paris, where Freda began a jewellery business with David. Most of their family perished in the Holocaust but a few of her father’s cousins survived.  It was on visiting them in England that Freda met her husband and moved to England in 1950 to start a family of her own.

For a very long time, Freda was unable to speak of the hell she experienced. While trying to come to terms with it after the war, she also realised that no-one wanted to listen. It took fifty years for things to change. It was not until January 2009 that Freda felt able to return to Auschwitz and her visit was featured on Blue Peter as part of its Holocaust Memorial Day commemorations. One she began speaking about her ordeal, Freda did everything she could to share it with others — so that they would learn from it.

Freda’s strength, dedication and kindness has been a true inspiration to us all and in 2018, she was awarded a British Empire Medal for her services to Holocaust education. She will be missed by many, including the Health Secretary Sajid Javid who said “I was privileged to meet her.” In giving her horrendous testimony to thousands of schoolchildren and adults, it is a wonder that Freda always managed to radiate warmth and kindness. Our Chairman Henry Grunwald OBE QC observed, “I never saw Freda without a smile on her face.”

She came to be close friends with our founders, the Smith family, spending many happy times together. She is pictured with Marina Smith in the photograph below. Commenting on Freda’s passing, our co-founder and Life President Dr James Smith CBE said, “We were privileged that Freda shared her eyewitness account at The National Holocaust Centre & Museum and with thousands of young people. We’ve lost a dear friend”.

But the final comment must go to Freda herself:

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

We offer our condolences to her family. May Freda's memory be a blessing on all of us.