Returning Home: 92 Year Old Holocaust Survivor Returns to Germany to “Try and Make A Life”

After 13 months of being in hiding,  Margo Friedlander was discovered by the Germans in April of 1944. She was sent to Theresienstadt Concentration Camp. The land that the camp was on is now in the Czech Republic.

Margot’s story isn’t all tragedy. It is in the concentration camp where she met her husband. When the camp was liberated in 1945, the couple immigrated to NY in 1947.  Upon arriving in the US, the couple swore they would never go back to Germany. Neither had any family living, as most of them were held captive at the death camp, Auschwitz and did not survive.

What sparked Ms. Friedlander’s return to the country where she was persecuted? When her husband died in 1997, she attended a memoir class that was held in the cultural center of New York, the 92nd street Y.  Inspired by the very last message her mother told her, “Versuche, dein Leben zu machen (Try to make a life)” In 2008, she published a memoir with this as the book’s title.

One evening when Ms. Friedlander was reading from her memoir at the Y, Thomas Halaczinsky, a German documentary producer, heard her story. He approached her and asked her to allow him to do a documentary on her life. The only caveat was that she had to go back to Germany with him.

Despite the vow she made with her husband all those years ago, she agreed to return to Berlin. At 92 years old, Margot Friedlander has returned to her birth place.

Upon arriving in the country, Halaczinsky recalled that Ms. Friedlander “[…]knew every shop that was ever there and every street corner. It was as if she never left.”

Margot Friedlander reads from her memoir.
Margot Friedlander reads from her memoir.

The documentary producer claims that the experience of going back to Berlin was the reason Ms. Friedlander decided to live there permanently, cbsnews reports.

Breaking the news to her Jewish friends in New York of her decision didn’t come easily. They could not understand why she wanted to return to a country where the people had murdered so many Jews, young or old, man, woman, and child. Ms. Friedlander didn’t share their thoughts though. She had experienced great kindness from the hands of 16 Germans who had risked their lives for 18 months to protect hers.

“I had Germans who helped me,” she said. “They did not know me. I was cared for by good people, even though they were few.”

She was able to meet one of the people who had protected her, Gretchen Camplair. Unfortunately by the time Margot was able to meet Gretchen, the woman was very ill. Margot was able to say thank you to one of her saviors, and she stroked the dying woman’s hands.

Today, Ms. Friedlander often shares her past with the teenagers of Berlin. Upon hearing her tale, the teens tell Ms. Friedlander that her story is different from the history books or what a teacher can tell them. She says, “[It’s] because my story is from the heart. It’s my story. I speak for people who can’t speak anymore.”

Ms. Friedlander has stated that when she dies, she wants to return to America so that she can be laid to rest beside her husband. However, for the time being, she is content in Berlin.

“I don’t regret it for a minute. I am reaching out to young Germans and they care about what happened here.”

Evette Champion

Evette Champion is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE