Daughter grieves anew at Holocaust survivor’s grave

A Holocaust Survivor Medallion like the one missing from Fryda Bierman’s gravesite.

BY SHARON SCHNEIDER

My mother, Fryda Bierman, was born in Lodz, Poland. The date of her birth was Dec. 15, 1929, which we later learned was an error. When her birth certificate arrived much later in life, we found out she had been born in January of that year. She refused to be almost a year older, and we allowed her that pleasure. She was a happy little girl and had two parents who spoiled their only child. 

My mother suffered the intolerable conditions of the Lodz  Ghetto and watched her mother starve herself so that her daughter could remain strong. When German soldiers came to her home, her mother was left to die. In the journey to the trains, my mother was separated from her father. Terrified and alone, she traveled in a filthy wooden cattle car with no windows to Auschwitz. She was even given the opportunity to stand in line for one of its infamous showers. 

God protected her, and she was sent to “work” at Bergen-Belsen,  where she remained until the camps were liberated in 1945. She was nearly 17 years old. She was hosted by an American family in St. Louis and came by ship to Ellis Island, no longer an innocent little girl from Poland. 

She went to school, learned to speak English and became strong again. She met my father, a sailor in the Navy. They married, and she once again had a mother, father, and five new brothers and sisters who welcomed her into their family. 

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I never knew of her experiences during the war until I was an adult and she finally spoke to schoolchildren about her life. Her story was able to keep groups of middle school students not only silent but mesmerized by what she told them. They wrote her letters and drew pictures of what they had learned. 

My mother had the strength to survive what 6 million others could not. When she became sick with pancreatic cancer in March 2012, she had only two requests. One was that a picture of her family be placed in the St. Louis Holocaust Museum. (This was done, but unfortunately she died before she was able to see it displayed.) And she wanted a Holocaust Medallion on her gravestone where she was buried at Chevra Kadisha Cemetery. This was also done, and it remained there on her stone for 12 years. It was an honor to the life she lived.

On Wednesday, May 9, I went to visit my mom for Mother’s Day. I always place a rock on the stone, close my eyes, kiss my hand and touch her name. Much to my horror, when I opened my eyes her medallion was gone. The only remaining evidence was two empty holes and a faint outline of where it had been all these years. Tears filled my eyes to see such a desecration. It hurt my heart to think that someone would take this from the stone. After surviving the ghetto, the horror of the trains and Nazi atrocities in concentration camps, my mother was not safe in the peacefulness of a Jewish cemetery. 

I have no idea if this has been done to other stones, and I only wish that if it has that others speak out. Some have tried to explain that this is a sign of the times, to steal and melt down metal for money. This was worth so much more to her than money. The police, the cemetery and my rabbi have all said they are so sorry this happened to me. 

It did not happen to me, it happened to my mom, Fryda Bierman. 

I can only hope that something can be done to once again honor her the way she wished to be. 

Sharon Schneider is a retired language arts teacher in the Rockwood School District. She and her husband live in Chesterfield and have two children and two grandchildren. Schneider is a member of United Hebrew Congregation.