Spreading the word

June 19, 2015 by Keren Cook
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Shmuel and Fredja Rothbard – both Holocaust survivors, landed in Auckland this week from Israel to begin a powerful journey sharing their remarkable survival stories to students and community groups.Like many survivors, their stories are full of hardship and suffering but also of kindness and humanity, which miraculously saved their lives during WW2.

Shuel and Frida

Shmuel and Fredja

The NZ Friends of Israel Association and the Jewish Federation of New Zealand have invited Shmuel, 82, and his wife Fredja, 81, here.

Shmuel, who lives in Kibbutz Gan Shmuel near Haifa,  remembers the day the war was announced because it was September 1 – his sixth birthday.

Soon after, his family was thrown out of their apartment in the Polish town of Krakow and his father’s textiles store was confiscated.

The family of six was eventually sent to the Krakow ghetto with other Jewish people in the town.

They were squeezed into a two-bedroom apartment with two other families. Soon old, young and sick people started to be taken away from the ghetto.

“We were told they were transported to the east for new settlement. Later we knew they were transported to extermination camps, mostly to Auschwitz,” says Shmuel.

Fredja was born in a small town in East Poland. Her blond hair and blue eyes offered her a better chance of survival. She was taken to a Polish widow to be cared for, while her mother was imprisoned. Over the years, Fredja was raised as a Christian and believed she was the only Jewish survivor.


Shmuel 1935

“I remember that I was Jewish. But I thought I was the only one,” says Fredja.

Their life stories will be shared through a series of talks as part of the federation’s Holocaust Outreach Programme for Education 2015.

This is the fifth consecutive year for the ‘HOPE’ programme. The main purpose of this outreach is to educate young people about the Holocaust. Fostering tolerance and respect about the difference between ethnicities, religions and cultures of people is a key objective in the program.

This is a rather unique program to New Zealand. While many countries around the world include Holocaust studies into the school curriculum, this particular program offers a point difference.

Yad Vashem in Jerusalem assist project ‘HOPE’ in finding suitable candidates and survivors volunteer their time to educate and engage with young people – extending the reach of holocaust education in New Zealand.

Fredga atconvent

Fredja at convent

Last year, over the 3 weeks tour – 2 universities and 25 schools were part of this outreach program, attracting a captive audience of 4,000 students. This year, Universities and schools are back on the agenda with many new secondary schools participating and an estimated audience of 4,500 students for this year.

New Zealand offers a variety of educational initiatives, stories, and first-hand accounts of the Holocaust.

The Holocaust Center of New Zealand (HCNZ) in Wellington curates stories of Holocaust survivors who made New Zealand their home. The centre has a wide range of educational material and support for teachers, students and the general public.

‘Shadows of Shoah’, is a unique and powerful photography exhibition of holocaust survivors, utilising photography and text in a visually compelling way. It’s an exhibition that continues to explore the divide between art, life stories and history – utilising technology in a compelling way to support both the artistic and historic accounts of survivors.

Recently, the New Zealand Jewish Online Museum (JOM) opened its virtual doors and within the museum’s virtual rooms the user can explore Jewish oral history, audio soundscapes, video and collections from survivors and second-generation groups.




One Response to “Spreading the word”
  1. LIZZIE MOORE says:

    I love how the childhood photos of this couple, Shmuel and Fredja were preserved over all those decades. Its a beautiful thing. Plus what a handsome couple they make today, in the modern photo!

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