One Holocaust Survivor’s Story

Fred’s Story (Part V), (part IV), (Part III), (Part II) (Part I)

By Steven Lieberman


The DP camps were created by Eisenhower of the Truman administration as a temporary holding place for the refugees until they were able to resettle. They shipped safe drinking water to them because they feared that the Germans, who were still around, might poison the tap water. Eventually, by 1953, the United States let in 600,000 refugees, second only to Israel who accepted more than 650,000.

“Finally, I ended up in (British-controlled) Salzburg,” Wolf said. “My ribs were aching. They wanted to help us get to Palestine. So, on July 15, 1945, my birthday, we went over the (beautiful) Brena Pass through the Austrian Alps (connects Austria and Italy) to Udine, Italy. I met up with a Jew there that I knew in Cologne who was going to Palestine by ship, and said, ‘Hugo, please, here’s the address of my uncle’s bargain store in Haifa. Please tell him I’m coming.’”

“I went to a military academy in Reggio Emilia, a town in a lush area of Northern Italy. The British controlled it and it had a hospital there. I still was experiencing terrible pain in my ribs. The doctor spoke no German and I didn’t speak Italian. Without anesthesia, he inserted a long needle between my ribs and extracted fluid out, twice. He said I had pleurisy (inflammation of the membrane that lines the chest and covers the lungs). I was a new man after that (Wolf smiles). I was then able to gain some weight. The nurses told the British officers to look at how I had been healed and how much weight I had gained. To celebrate, I went to the movies that night. When the Americans dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, we saw this on the newsreel, and everybody clapped.”

“Then, I was brought, illegally, by boat, to Palestine by the Italians and Israeli militants from the Haganah.” The Haganah is a Jewish paramilitary organization designed to protect the Jewish minority against the Palestinians and the British authorities, which, in 1948, would become the Israeli Defense Forces.

“The night they came for us, it was a hurried situation. They said, ‘Now! Get ready! Take everything, take a shower!’ There were four or five trucks that took us to Genoa, a city and seaport in northern Italy, not far from the French Riviera. There was a small boat there and they said, ‘get in, get in!’ We laid on cots. Boys and girls started hollering, ‘who has condoms?!’ At that point, I didn’t want to partake, so I took my blanket and went to sleep on the outside deck. I had never seen the ocean. When the morning came, it was warm; the dolphins were swimming right next to us. As we approached the Straight of Messina, I saw smoke rising up to the sky from a volcano called Mt Etna in Sicily. There was no wind; I’ll never forget that beautiful moment.”

“It was then that I saw the mountains of Lebanon after traveling through Messina. I knew we were close. A couple of Spitfire British jets flew over the boat to observe us. The Israeli militants from the Haganah had boxes of guns and ammo. They new they would have to fight the British to get out, so they pushed them overboard because they didn’t want to be caught with them. Then came a British cruiser and hooked up to our boat and got us into Haifa. I was lucky to be freed in Haifa because every other boat with survivors that followed us had to land at Cyprus.”

There were two British concentration camps on Cyprus for nearly 50,000 Jewish survivors of the Holocaust trying to emigrate to the British Mandate of Palestine. The British were keeping the survivors out of Palestine, and only six ships managed to elude being captured. The rest were pirated, many of the people on board severely abused, and sent to the camps and kept in horrid and crowded conditions until the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. The only difference; they weren’t killed or physically abused.

“We were brought to a camp in Haifa where they examined us to make sure we didn’t bring in any TB or other diseases. The Italians who manned the boat said to me; ‘there’s a kibbutz that will be able to take you in. We know them.’ (There’s a monument there now.) After a couple weeks, we were told over loud speakers, ‘If you have family, we will let you call them to pick you up!’ I said, “Please take me to my uncle!”

“My cousin, Tova, picked me up and took me, by train, to my Uncle Max’s (his dad’s youngest brother and godfather) store. I was finally there! I would find out later that my mom’s brother, also in Haifa, asked my dad if they could take me with them when they escaped before the war. My dad said no. I could have been free.”

Wolf participated in the Israeli War of Independence in 1948, in which half the army were Holocaust survivors. The war marked the successful establishment of the State of Israel, having defeated their Arab neighbors. “If Israel had been established during WWII, they would have stopped and killed Hitler,” Wolf said.

In 1951, he went back to Merl to take care of his families’ property and belongings and met and married his wife, Sonya, in Cologne in 1953. He was a machinist working in the same building where she cut hair. It was love at first site. They had two children, Rita and Edward, who both now live in Los Angeles. (Sonya’s life has since been taken by breast cancer.)

They were sponsored by a friend who worked in the Pennsylvanian government and were sent a visa to come to the United States. The American ship, called the Liberty, carried them and 9,000 other passengers from Rotterdam to Saskatchewan, Canada, and their first stop on the journey. They bought a house in Erie, Pennsylvania, but Sonya soon became restless and wanted to move to Los Angeles. “Manfred, you’re Jewish, you’ve got to make money, get into some kind of business,” she said.

Before they left, Wolf attended a reunion for survivors in New York City in 1954 that was filmed by NBC. People came from Israel and other parts of the world. A friend he knew from Padebon was there and they embraced and said, “You’re alive!” (In 1996, Steven Spielberg had a representative film and interview Wolf for the “Survivors of the Shoah” Visual History Foundation.)

The 1956 Chevy, his first car costing $500, was loaded up and they headed down Route 66 to Los Angeles where he worked the night shift at Douglas Aircraft making rocket seals before opening a liquor store in Venice, which he operated for 30 years. After a year of retirement, he got restless, and took a job at the Gelson’s in Pacific Palisades, where he’s been working and having fun for the past eight years. There, he talks to a lot of people who are interested in his story.

He injured his back carrying cement bags while providing slave labor during the Holocaust and receives much-deserved financial restitution from the German government.

When asked what dreams he has about his experience in the concentration camps, he said, “being liberated by the American soldiers.” He’ll never forget the extreme joy he felt at that moment. Wolf also expressed his desire for people to bear witness to the truth and why he feels it’s important for his testimony to be heard.

“By giving my testimony, I hope that people will see what it really was like for the Jews under Hitler. It’s a warning for everybody in the world today that this (Holocaust) could happen again. The Nazis today (and during the trials), say, ‘I was just doing as I was told, taking orders from Hitler,’ even though they knew, deep down, that it was inhumane. I was lucky; I had a ‘sixth sense’ that helped me to survive.”

Mintzer and Wolf continue to go dancing every Saturday and look forward to many years of happiness together in Culver City.


July 20, 2007 | Comments Off on One Holocaust Survivor’s Story

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