The Daughter of Auschwitz

by Tova Friedman, Malcolm Brabant

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The Daughter of Auschwitz Summary

The Daughter of Auschwitz is a 2022 memoir by Holocaust survivor Tova Friedman.

  • Tova Friedman, whose birth name was Tola Grossman, was born in Poland and transported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp as a young child.
  • At Auschwitz, Friedman witnessed the horrific treatment of Jews and others at the hands of the Nazis. She was only six years old when the camp was liberated.
  • Friedman and her parents later immigrated to the United States, where Friedman became a social worker and an advocate for asylum seekers and survivors of trauma.


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Last Updated on November 28, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 950

Tova Friedman, one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, has penned a memoir detailing the experiences of living in a Jewish ghetto in Poland and then of being imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau with her mother. Her first memories of living in the ghetto begin when she was approximately two years old, and she was six when she was liberated from Auschwitz-Birkenau by Russian soldiers. The memoir extends beyond these defining years in Friedman’s life, and she explains how her entire life—including the tragedies and successes that followed—has been shaped by those formative years of child development.

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Friedman acknowledges that time may have blurred the events she recalls, particularly her “worst memories.” As a practicing therapist, she reminds readers that the human brain has an extraordinary ability to survive the worst traumas, and she must consider that these events did not happen exactly as she now recalls them. However, it is evident that she has invested incredible time into researching the timelines of history and comparing them to the details of her memory, aligning those events in the memoir as much as possible.

In her earliest memories, Tola Grossman (the author’s birth name) was only around two years old and trapped in a Jewish ghetto, rarely able to go outside. Existing primarily under the kitchen table, Tola tried to find a safe space for herself in an ever-changing group of people who rotated in and out of their home. Although she was incredibly young, Friedman vividly recalls the sounds of the guns that “cut . . . down” her widowed maternal grandmother and her brother. She remembers being so starved for nutrients that she began licking the walls of their home. Later, when most of their fellow residents were moved out of the ghetto, Friedman recalls using the weight of her tiny body to drag corpses into mass graves.

Eventually, young Tola and her parents were forced to leave the comparative comforts of the ghetto and board cattle cars destined for Auschwitz. At first, Tola was able to live with her mother after Papa was immediately taken to a different camp upon their arrival. In retrospect, Friedman isn’t sure how she survived the many Selektions she faced. The Nazis viewed children as unsuitable for work purposes; furthermore, their survival meant the continuation of the Jewish race, which was a contradiction to Hitler’s plans. Remarkably, Tola was spared death time after time, even after once standing naked inside a gas chamber with the last remaining children in the camp for a seemingly planned execution. 

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Inside the camp, Tola encountered death so often that corpses failed to stir any sense of particular shock. When her bunkmate died during the night, Tola was only worried that her absence at the roll call the following morning would create trouble for everyone else. Consequently, Tola dragged the girl’s body to the door and announced her death with an odd sense of “pride” when her number was called. Tola played war games with the boys inside the camp because even being beaten by them as a “game” was preferable to spending those hours alone. In countless ways, Tola was robbed of childhood and was instead subjected to unfathomable violence and cruelty.

When Russian forces were approaching, Mama seized an opportunity to reunite with Tola and take her to an infirmary. By hiding underneath sheets with corpses, they were able to successfully avoid the Nazi soldiers who were killing many other survivors. 

Following their liberation from Auschwitz, Mama and Tola made their way back home to Tomaszów Mazowiecki, where they were not given a warm welcome upon their return. Instead, their neighbors sometimes directly asked why they had returned and expressed dismay that all Jews had not died in the concentration camps. After Papa rejoined them, the family soon decided that they needed to relocate.

After moving around for a while, the Grossmans eventually decided to move to the United States. While Papa and Tola looked at the opportunity with optimism, Mama was pained by her memories of the past. When Tola planned her first trip to Israel when she was nineteen, Mama protested, saying that it wasn’t safe. Tola decided to go anyway, after consulting their family doctor about Mama’s health; he assured Tola that her mother would be “fine.” After returning from the two-week trip, Tola learned that her mother had died only two days after her departure; Papa blamed Tola for his wife’s death, which created an emotional barrier between the two for several years.

Tola married Maier Friedman, the first friend she had made as an eleven-year-old immigrant in the United States. His initial warmth and kindness followed her for years, and he intentionally kept in touch with her. The couple had four children and lived in Israel for a number of years before moving back to the United States because of better financial opportunities. Tola, who renamed herself Tova, respected both her husband’s incredible intelligence and his intuitive parenting skills. While Tova pursued opportunities that allowed her to serve others, it was often Maier who took their children to appointments and practices; she also commends him for being the “playful” parent that she could never be. His death in 2020 left an incredible “void” in their family.

Friedman has revisited Auschwitz several times, although when she was freed in 1945 she never thought she would lay eyes on the place again. In her most recent visit, to commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the camp’s liberation, she spent time with other survivors who gathered to celebrate the strength of the human spirit. Friedman believes that all humans are born with the resilience to overcome “extraordinarily difficult challenges.”

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Chapter Summaries