Meet Margot Friedlander, Berlin's Unlikely 92-Year-Old Jewish Celebrity

Holocaust Survivor Returns to Land of Her Birth


By Don Snyder

Published November 04, 2013, issue of November 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

By moving back to Berlin three years ago, Margot Friedlander, a 92-year-old Holocaust survivor, has become an unlikely celebrity in the land where she was once persecuted.

In 1946, when she immigrated to New York with her husband, they both vowed never to set foot again in Germany. Most members of both their families were murdered at Auschwitz.

But today, Friedlander said, young Germans tell her that what they get from being in her presence is different than what they would from any teacher or book. “Because my story is from my heart,” she said. “It’s my story. I speak for the people who can’t speak anymore.”

When Friedlander made the final decision to live in Berlin, her German-Jewish friends in New York tried to dissuade her. How could she return to a place whose inhabitants had murdered so many Jews and all their loved ones?

Friedlander was 21 when the Gestapo came for her family. She escaped and remained in hiding in Berlin for 13 months. While hidden, she dyed her black hair a brownish orange and wore a crucifix. She had to change hiding places frequently to avoid detection. The moves were often on streets darkened because of Allied air raids. She was never to ask the names of those who hid her, nor where they lived. Her protectors feared if the Nazis caught her, she would expose the underground network.

After emerging from a bomb shelter in April 1944, she was apprehended and questioned by the Gestapo. She admitted she was Jewish and was sent to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in what is now the Czech Republic.

It was in Theresienstadt that Friedlander met and married her husband. They were married in a traditional Jewish ceremony after the Russians liberated the camp. A short time later they came to New York and took up residence in Queens. Her husband became the comptroller at the 92nd Street Y, and she worked for a travel agency. The two never had children.

When Friedlander’s husband died in 1997, she tried to cope with this loss and find new meaning in life by taking classes at the Y. One of these was a memoir class.

“I wrote every night,” she recalled during an interview in her apartment in a high-end Berlin senior residence. Geraniums adorned the apartment’s balcony. Below the apartment complex was a kindergarten, a tableau of hope for the future. “I had all these stories in my head. Everything started coming back to me, many things that I pushed aside for years.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.