Norbert Friedman weighed just 80 pounds at the age of 23 when he was liberated from the Ganacker concentration camp on May 1, 1945.
The Krakow, Poland, native who survived three years in 11 concentration camps told his story to more than 120 people who gathered in Evans on Wednesday night for an annual Yom HaShoah observance.
Yom HaShoah is the Hebrew term for Holocaust Remembrance Day, which ends at sundownThursday.
The observance, sponsored by the Augusta Jewish Federation and the Augusta Jewish Community Center, began with the reading of names of a few of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Six candles were lit, one for each million lives lost.
In introducing Friedman, Leah Ronen noted that he did not wish for a celebratory reception.
“Mr. Friedman requested at no time should there be any applause,” said Ronen, the executive director of the Augusta Jewish Federation.
Today, the 89-year-old Friedman lives in Atlanta. He was born in Krakow in 1922 in an observant Jewish home as the son of a Kosher butcher.
At the age of 10, he joined a Zionist organization, not because of the ideology, but because of the soccer field in front of the meeting place.
Friedman was interned in his first labor camp with his father on June 16, 1942. Over the next three years, he was transferred to 10 other camps, including Flossenburg and Dachau.
Today, people often ask Friedman whether the horrors he endured shook his faith in God or fellow man. Friedman replies that he chooses to believe in goodness.
“If all men are evil, then there is no hope for mankind,” he said. “We cannot live without faith and hope.”
Friedman had doubts about his faith and its rituals, prohibitions and commandments as a teenager. But, he explained, “my faith was restored,” because of glimpses of good he was privileged to witness during the Holocaust.
On Wednesday, he told a few stories of selfless friends who risked their lives to bring food to the sick and dying in concentration camps, or shared precious bottles of water among men packed into cattle cars as they traveled between concentration camps.
“We saw flashes of mercy and we managed in our desperation to share mercy among us,” he said.
Friedman moved to the United States in 1950 and has shared his story with American audiences since 1960. He has written a memoir, Sun Rays at Midnight, and says he hopes today’s generation will pass along the stories, in the hope that they won’t be forgotten or misunderstood.
“My dear friends, the time is running out on Holocaust survivors,” he said. Without the help of younger generations, “the Shoah,” the Holocaust, in Hebrew, “will be forgotten.”