In Alexa's Shoes
Meeting the girl from my Auschwitz sketches Tova Friedman
When I was 13 years of age, my mother took me on summer vacation to visit my Polish grandmother in Krakow in 1985. While there, we went to visit Auschwitz. I’ve never forgotten the emotions I felt as a teenager that day learning of the horrors and hate, and witnessing the evil inflicted by the Nazi regime during WWII on so many innocent people. I never had the words to express my feelings back then, so when we returned to my grandmother’s house, I did a pencil sketch of the liberated children holding up their tattooed arms. I always wondered what happened to the two girls in my sketch, and I prayed they survived and found peace and love in their lives.
I didn’t know my own grandmother Alexa’s wartime experience back then. How, as a thirteen-year-old she was rounded up by the Nazis in Lublin, while out shopping for new shoes with her Catholic mother, separated from her younger sister Asha. They were taken as forced labour to slave for an SS family on their German farm during the war years.
My grandmother was my #1 person in the world, and we shared many conversations about her war experiences with me. I promised my Alexa I would write her story, reimagined in a novel. I published IN ALEXA’S SHOES in June of 2019. For Holocaust Memorial Day last year, I redid my old sketch of the two girls liberated from Auschwitz and posted both sketches online. I was amazed beyond belief when a woman commented on my Facebook post, that the girl on the left of my sketch was her mother, Tova Friedman. She informed me that her mother was alive and well, living in New Jersey. It was my honor to sign and send the sketches to Tova, who in return, sent me a beautiful photo of her holding my drawings of her.
In September of 2022, Tova’s memoir, The Daughter of Auschwitz, co-written with Michael Brabant was published. It’s a must read, and one I highly recommend, told from the eyes of a small child. It’s a gripping and powerful read, that we can all learn from today. Two days after I read the harrowing memoir, I met Tova Friedman, the young girl in my sketches, along with her children, grandchildren, and dearest friends at a private gathering. What an absolute honor to meet such a fabulous woman and a true inspiration. It’s a day I will never forget, and a memory I will treasure forever.
I now know that Tova did indeed survive Auschwitz, moved to America with her mother and created a beautiful family of her own with her loving husband. She became a psychologist and is an active Holocaust educator. And now, we are both bestselling authors. Tova, telling her harrowing factual survival story as a young Jewish girl prisoner of Auschwitz & me, reimagining my grandmother Alexa’s nightmare as a young Catholic taken as forced labor.
There are so many untold survivor’s stories still to tell, each one is a lesson for us all to learn from. Hate is a poison. Love is the answer.
We must never forget!