From the age of thirteen, Cpl. Ezra Friedman knew he wanted to join the IDF (Zahal) and become a combat soldier. Hearing his grandfather’s moving stories made him sure of it.
Corporal Ezra Friedman was born to a family with a distinguished heritage. His great grandfather on his mother’s side was a combat soldier in the United States Navy in World War I, and his grandfather was a combat pilot in Vietnam.
Cpl. Ezra Friedman with his mother’s parents
His grandfather on his father’s side was a fighter in the Jewish resistance movement against the Nazis during World War II. Listening to his grandfathers tell their stories throughout his childhood convinced Cpl. Friedman that he wanted to make Aliya. “Being the grandson of a holocaust survivor definitely has an affect on me in a very direct way,” Cpl. Friedman says. “The stories are very real and personal.”
The Jew who Posed as a Nazi to Save Lives
Cpl. Friedman’s grandfather, Fred Friedman
“I heard his story for the first time when I was eight years old, and I didn’t really understand it at the time. I heard it again around my bar mitzvah. That’s when I actually said out loud to my parents that I wanted to make Aliyah and join the IDF (Zahal),” Cpl. Friedman says.
Cpl. Friedman’s grandfather, Fred Friedman, now 91 years old, and his entire family were on their way from Czechoslovakia to Hungary when they were caught by the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz. Only he and his sister managed to escape, but Fred never left the reality of the war. He served alongside the partisans, the leaders of the Jewish resistance movement.
The yeshiva-educated Fred Friedman obtained a false identity and posed as a member of the feared German secret police, the Gestapo. With his Aryan identity established by false papers, Friedman crossed over the border into Hungary, where he lived in relative safety.
In 1944, the large Jewish community of Hungary was no longer able to evade the horror of the concentration camps. Once the Nazis and their allies began rounding up Hungary’s Jews, Friedman found himself in a position to save between 60 and 70 lives. In June of that year, a young mother told Friedman of her two daughters, whom she had left behind in Debrecen. The two girls faced imminent deportation to Auschwitz. Friedman offered his services to save them from death at the hands of the Nazis.
The Slovakian Jew took a train to Debrecen and located the recovering mother’s two daughters. In Debrecen, Friedman took the two girls, as well as a dozen other children and three mothers who had asked for his help, to safe houses outside of Budapest.
While traveling from Debrecen, a Hungarian police officer accused the group with Friedman of being Jews. With a quick flash of his Gestapo I.D., the pseudo Gestapo-Mann managed to escape the officer’s suspicions. According to Friedman, everyone in his Debrecen group survived the war.
Friedman made many similar trips to cities in Hungary, rescuing children from the clutches of those who sought to send them to their deaths. Even sometimes, says Friedman, he would save people “right off the street” in Budapest.
In His Footsteps
When he was 19 years old, Cpl. Friedman decided to make his dream of Aliya a reality. He left his family in the United States and joined the IDF (Zahal) as a combat medic in the Armored Corps.
Cpl. Friedman with a friend from the army
“I love helping people and taking care of people,” Cpl. Friedman says. “The way I look at it is that I want to live here and part of that is serving in the army. And the way that I think I can give my most in the army is to be a combat soldier. So that’s why I’m here. If we don’t protect Israel, who will?”