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Dov Freiberg

Translated by Selwyn Rose

This Book is Dedicated to:

The members of my family who were lost in the Holocaust,
I know not where, when or how;
To the hundreds and thousands of Jews who were murdered in Sobibor;
To my comrades and friends who fell during the revolt in the camp,
and afterwards...................

Emotional pressures, building up for many years, together with the legacy of the slaughtered victims, shouted to me in their last moments, ringing in my ears again and again - these are the mainsprings and drives which compel me to write this book of the tragic period of the Jewish people known to history as The Holocaust

I wanted to write my own story of those days, as it is etched in my memories; the story of one who survived among millions who were exterminated - although they, too, were all individual human beings, unique, each with his own personal saga, his own Odyssey. I want to believe that this story, the story of one of those who survived, will contribute something to the study and history of the Chronicles of an entire People.

I am writing here forty years after the events but the memories have not been blunted.

I have tried to retell the details as accurately as I am able. Indeed, it seems to me, that as I wrote and moved forward in time with my story, the pictures before my mind's eye, of those days, became more and more sharply focused, as if it were only yesterday. It is my earnest hope that any inaccuracies which have nevertheless crept into my descriptions are minor and of marginal or totally insignificant import. I have intentionally commenced my story in the period immediately prior to the Holocaust, describing my childhood and the life of my family, and further added my experiences as a survivor of the Holocaust in the aftermath of the war, in Poland and Germany, up until the time I embarked, as a refugee and illegal immigrant on the decks of the 'Exodus' and arrived in Palestine.

I believe that it is as appropriate to describe Jewish life in Poland before the Holocaust as it is to write of the life of a survivor, fighting for his sanity, uncertainly fumbling for a new way forward, a refugee from the visions of the past, having been spewed out of the mælstrom. From these things also, it is possible to learn something of our history during a fateful period.

Dov Freiberg

Dov Freiberg, dreamy, spoiled and twelve-years old, the son of a small manufacturer in pre-war Lodz, caught up, perforce, in the frightening German conquest of Poland ..............and The Holocaust.

His father, the head of the family, is murdered in the very first days of the war and his mother is now left alone to fight for the survival of herself and the four children. She succeeds in smuggling two of her sons out of the Warsaw ghetto whence she takes her children when the situation in Lodz deteriorates. Guessing her own fate to be sealed, together with that of her elder daughter, Devorah and her small son, Yankeleh, she hopes that they, at least, would somehow survive.................

Dov Freiberg, who matured 'overnight' in the fight for survival, as a 'cleaner' in the notorious Sobibor extermination camp and afterwards as a hunted animal in the forests of Poland, is the sole survivor of his entire extended family. He witnessed Death, face to face, in its most inhuman and abusive form day after day, throughout all the years of the war.

This is the story of a survivor, the chronicle of his life before, during and after the Holocaust - during the days when he struggled with the import of his personal tragedy and for his sanity in a world in which he had been snatched from the jaws of death time after time, until he embarked on the Hagannah ship, known today as 'The Exodus' and arrived in Palestine.

This is a record written from memory, forty years after the events occurred, yet even so it is an overpowering expression - an accurate, compelling, graphic description, frank in its exposures, laden with tears and even a laugh or two - of the life of the writer and the Jews in Poland before the destruction, during the German occupation and the Holocaust and after the liberation, at the hands of the Soviet Army.

Dov Freiberg's story - 'The Last of the Freibergs' is one of many that have been written about the years of the Holocaust, and yet there is a uniqueness about it found in his detailed and comprehensive description of his experiences in Sobibor extermination camp, the revolt which took place there, - the circumstances surrounding it, the course it took in its execution and its results - as seen through the eyes of one who was present and took an active part.

An historic document which should and must remain a witness and a testimony unto the ultimate generation.

Ya'acov Sharret

A Word from the Translator

For Dov......And All The Others!

Two motives brought this English edition into being: one - it is, one might say, a labour of love - a personal love for Dov and his wife Sarah; love and unstinting admiration for all those unsung heroes who passed through the same or a very similar hell, together with an overwhelming, unquenchable ache for all those who didn't get the chance to write about what was happening to them................a pain so real, so intense that, reading Dov's words and 'living' the experience vicariously with him and with those around him, I was unable to continue and on many occasions had to mark-time, sometimes for weeks on end, until I had regained sufficient courage to enter once more the world of horrors.

The second is that I am obsessed with the belief that Dov has a supreme, undeniable right to have his story read by the whole world and that the world is entitled - if not morally obliged - to read it, because this is the real thing, as it happened day by day, to the man telling the story.

As has been implied by Ya'acov Sharret on another page, stories of the Holocaust era are legion: libraries are full of, and could yet be created solely from, Holocaust material. But first-hand, full length personal odysseys are slightly more rare. Yes, we have personal diaries, letters and testimonies - some of them are diaries from the ghettos and stop at the end of one day without commencing the next, because for the writer there was no tomorrow................

Some of them are fairly long, chronological records, like Anne Frank's epic.......some of them are scratched on the walls of the gas-chamber itself - and what could stir more heartbreaking, horrifying images in our minds than that? But as far I know, this is an almost unique document: a first-person history of a twelve-years old boy, who lived through six years of the most horrifying experiences imaginable (or perhaps unimaginable?), and lived to tell the tale forty years on - and tell it he does! Movingly and competently. If that has failed to come through, then, quite clearly it is I, and neither the story nor the author, who have failed. And I have done my entire subject, in all its aspects - author, the history of the Holocaust, its victims, both those who are and those who are not.........and the whole world, the greatest possible disservice.

I am not a professional translator but I sense that The First Commandment of a translator must surely be “Thou shalt intrude neither thyself nor thy personality into the author's world or work”. I hope I have not done this in the body of the work but I am involved here! I don't believe any man, certainly no Jew, can write the words appearing between the covers of this book without being moved; without having those feelings come through somewhere, somehow. So, let me tell you now, who I am, how I came to be involved with Dov and his story, and then, I hope, step aside.

Since the end of 1986, I have been coordinator of a Youth Exchange Project with Germany, on behalf of my Kibbutz, although I had been active on the periphery for nearly ten previous years.

I had no previous, special, 'extra' knowledge or connection with the Holocaust other than that of being a reasonably informed, emotionally involved, average Jew, no different to millions of my brethren; had made no special study of the subject, nor, to the best of my knowledge, had I ever been in close, long-term contact with anyone who had passed through that particularly horrendous, blazing fire. I think the only serious document on the Holocaust, as such, which I had read - and that was in 1968 or 1969 - was 'Judgement in Jerusalem', the English translation of the trial of Adolph Eichmann, by the late Attorney-General, Gideon Hausner - (at which, incidentally, Dov, together of course with a host of others, gave evidence).

My work with the Exchange Project changed all that. From 1989 I travelled to Germany and Poland each year with our youngsters and welcomed our partners in return, organizing their stay on the Kibbutz and touring with them through Israel.

In order to create a more meaningful experience for the young people on my Kibbutz taking part in the Exchange, and build an appropriate programme in preparation for their journey, I began to acquire information and knowledge, develop sources, introduce fresh material and make contacts with various people, institutes and organizations, both in Israel and abroad, obtaining for myself, in so doing, deeper and more wide-ranging insights into events, personalities and places of which I had previously been only marginally - or more likely, not at all - aware.

Among my early acquisitions as coordinator of our Exchange, was the video film 'Escape from Sobibor' - a name then stirring only vague echoes in my head. However, at the tail end of the film was a list of those of the escapees known, at that time, to be still alive and their whereabouts. To my surprise (why?), I discovered that there were quite a few in Israel and I set about trying to locate them and make contact with them, thinking to introduce my groups to Holocaust survivors, through the film. My first positive reaction was from Eda and Yitzhak Lichtmann, whom we visited for a year and a half until Yitzhak's and later Eda's deaths. Several of my youngsters attended Yitzhak's funeral as a sign of respect. I brought Eda to the Kibbutz several times to talk to the combined German-Israeli youth groups and discuss her experiences with them, after looking at the film together.

It was at my first meeting with Eda and Yitzhak, late in 1989, that Eda brought Dov's book and his own whereabouts, along with other survivors of Sobibor in Israel, to my attention. I quickly made his acquaintance - by 'phone, since he was not at home when I first called - and purchased from him a copy of his book. Already in the first few pages, I began to feel the urge to translate it into English and, as I read, the English phrasing seemed to leap up at me out of the Hebrew text. Dov agreed that I could make a trial translation, which I did and, deeply concerned for his sensitivities in the matter, submitted it to a friend of mine who had been a professional linguist and translator for many years, who expressed satisfaction However, the work has been tediously slow because my involvement is virtually non-commercial and I have had to continue, first with my normal work-a-day life and later, from 1994 to 1996 with a full-time course of study.

I had first met Dov face to face at the funeral of Yitzhak Lichtmann, in Tel-Aviv in the early 1990's. We became friends and I began to visit him at his home, occasionally taking one or two of each year's youngsters with me.

October 14th 1993, marked the 50th Anniversary of the revolt and escape from Sobibor and I had suggested to Dov that it would be appropriate to organize a small gathering at Yad Vashem for all other survivors who could attend. The ceremony indeed took place, organized and attended by Dov and his comrades. Two of my youngsters came with me to Jerusalem. (I had originally hoped that this book might be published at that time as a coincidental event but things didn't quite work out that way).

Dov still offers personal testimony, recounting his experiences to our own youth and those of many other countries who visit here. He is called upon at least once a year by Yad Vashem, to lecture to adult groups of educators from abroad. He has written several other books of his experiences including a sequel to the present volume and a particularly moving record of his first journey back to Poland since the war, with a youth group in 1991, during which he had the opportunity of visiting the cemetery in Pruszkow, and identifying the grave of his father - the only single member of his entire extended family, whose burial place is known to him.

Dov, the Last of the Freibergs, nearly always with a jolly smile on his face - and I mean it! - until he is asked to put into words the memories and pictures which are always lurking there, just under the smile, ready to pounce - is now retired, lives with his beloved wife, Sarah in Ramla, of Crusader- and Saladin-fame, about twenty miles south-east of Tel-Aviv and spends much of his time exploiting his skills as a writer.

I must add a profound word of thanks to two of my friends, fellow members of my Kibbutz, Mrs. Sarah Brikman, originally from Lodz and Mr. Aharon Thalenburg originally from Wiesbaden and Wroclaw (Breslau), who were kind enough to check and offer opinions of my Anglicized spelling of Polish, German and Yiddish references, in those instances where I was unable to discover them in other sources such as street directories and maps, or the established English language works of bona fide historians and writers of the period, etc.

Dov, my friend - Yashir Kochecha!

Selwyn Rose,
Kibbutz Bror Hayil,
March 1997.

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