Holocaust Survivors Reunite With Their ‘Manna’: The Woman Who Cared For Them After The War

Holocaust Survivors Reunite With Their 'Manna'

Soon after the end of the Second World War, Martha found herself at a manse in Lingfield, England, surrounded by children who were under her care and who began calling her ‘Manna’.

Martha ‘Manna’ Weindling Friedmann was born in 1915 in Cologne, a German Jew whose nearly entire family was killed in the Holocaust. She moved to England before the war to escape the Nazis. In 1946 she began work at Weir Courtney in Lingfield, which was home for almost two dozen children who survived the Holocaust. Most of them lost their families during the war and were aged between 3 and 16 years old. Manna and the other caretakers gave them back their childhood. Rebecca Erbelding, the museum’s archivist, remembered how a few years back, with the help of some friends in Italy, she met sisters Andra and Tatiana who were 4 and 6 years old when they were sent to Auschwitz.

In October, Andra and Tatiana attended Rebecca’s wedding in Ohio. She promised them that after the wedding she would take them to the Holocaust Museum in Washington and then to see Manna. Although they hadn’t seen each other in over a decade, the sisters considered Manna a second mother. After Manna’s husband passed away, she left her home in London and moved to a retirement community near where a niece of her also lived, in Philadelphia. Her niece, Helen Weindling Cohen said that Manna doesn’t remember much of her past, but when she told her that Andra and Tatiana are coming to see her, Manna’s face “lit up like the sun.”

Nazis came to arrest them and her family in March 1944. They came during the night, when the two girls were asleep. When they arrived at Auschwitz, they separated them from their mother Mira. The reason why they were separated was because they were twins and seemed to qualify for doctor Josef Mengele’s infamous medical experiments, The News-Herald News reports. When Mira no longer visited her girls at the children’s barrack, the two sisters believed she was dead. In January 1945, Andra and Tatiana were at an orphanage in Prague. They don’t know why or how they eneded up there. Early in 1946, the twins were on a plane to England.

However, it turns out that Mira wasn’t dead and the reason why she didn’t visit them any longer was because she was transferred to another concentration camp. After the war she returned to Italy, where she reunited with her husband, Nino. When the Nazis arrested Mira and the girls, Nino was a prisoner of war in Africa. Together they started looking for the girls and found them across the English Channel.  Before they returned home, Manna, who cared a big deal for the girls, dressed them in lovely blue coats, with embroidered caps and shoulder bags.

“I arrived there with my violin and looked through the window and saw these 6-year-old children with shorn hair, who danced, and there I stood outside and started crying,” said Manna during an interview.  Andra and Tatiana spent almost seven hours with their Manna that afternoon in October. They cried and they looked at old pictures. Manna sang “Eine kleine Nachtmusik”. The next day they went for another five-hour visit. They brought with them the doll, the purse and the hat they had when they left Weir Courtney. “Oh, wait, yes! Oh, wait a minute. Yes!” she cried. “Yes!” She held and gazed at the doll that had traveled so far.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE