Tova Friedman's grandson, Aron Goodman, created the TovaTok account on social media, following the rise in antisemitic views in recent years
While young children feared for their lives during the Holocaust in Germany in World War II, people in the United States lived quite normal lives. Tova Friedman escaped to the U.S. at the age of 11 and was quite shocked by the fact that her life back home differed from people here. Having spent her early years in a Jewish ghetto before being imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp for over a year, the disparity felt particularly strange to her. She is now 84 years old, living in New Jersey and has decided to share her story with the younger generation through TikTok.
She told TODAY, "I was shocked when I spoke to kids my age. I was 11 years old and they were telling me about all kind of experiences when they were children — vacations, summer camps — I couldn't believe it. I thought what I experienced was what the world experienced." Aron Goodman, her grandson, on the other hand, grew up listening to his grandmother's narrative of surviving a genocide. So, he decided to share her story on TikTok about a year ago and named the account TovaTok. Goodman's inspiration for doing this was the rise in antisemitic views in recent years.
Goodman said, "My curriculum in my school for the Holocaust wasn't adequate. There was no Holocaust as part of the history discussion." To address this, he created a short film on YouTube that followed her grandmother's experience in Auschwitz and began sharing it on TikTok. As people started to show interest and ask questions, she recognized the potential to raise awareness about the topic. According to her story, shared on social media platforms, Freidman was taken by the Nazis to the notorious concentration camp in Poland at the age of five, where they tattooed the number 27-6-33 on her arm. Out of the 5,000 children from her hometown of Tomaszow Mazowiecki, she was one of only five who survived. Being the youngest of the five, she explains that most children were immediately killed, as they were considered useless and were targeted by the Germans, including Hitler. Moreover, the Nazis feared that children who survived could share their terrible experiences with the world.
Friedman stayed with her mother for some time in Auschwitz before being sent to a different part of the camp due to illness. She emphasizes the significance of listening to children and their perspectives throughout this terrible ordeal, as very few children survived Auschwitz. "I was surprised I wasn't killed, and most of the time, there's no explanation," she says. Just a few weeks before the camp was liberated by the Russian army in 1945, Friedman's mother managed to find her and they were together during the liberation. Friedman remembers that she was hoping for food when the Russian troops arrived.
Beyond grateful for people like Tova Friedman, one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz, and her grandson Aaron. They are using the positive power of social media to share Tova's testimony and educate younger generations about the Shoah. @tovatoks https://t.co/qZyZgXgalN— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) April 2, 2023
Friedman explains that during her time in the camp, all she wanted was food. She finds it challenging to convey the various types of hunger to people who have never experienced it. When asked how she felt about God during that time, she responds, "Like a piece of bread. That's all you wanted." Friedman's TikTok followers frequently ask her questions, and many are interested in seeing her tattooed number. Goodman notes that people are intrigued by the tattoo because it is an aspect that has remained intact throughout time and individuals can only see it when they are with a survivor.
Although a doctor offered to remove the tattoo when Friedman first arrived in the United States, she chose to keep it, believing that it serves as a witness to what happened. "I feel as if my number is there to say, 'You think this never happened? Look,'" she says.
Goodman notes that wherever there is a Jewish presence, there is also hate and anti-Semitism. But overall, they have received positive feedback from many people who express gratitude for the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust through Friedman's story. Since launching TovaTok a year ago, Tova and her grandson Aron have spent more time together, including a recent trip to Los Angeles where Tova spoke about her life, book and involvement in a recipe book. The cookbook, "Honey Cake and Latkes: Recipes from the Old World by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Survivors," features two of Tova's family recipes, which are meant to tell "little stories." Proceeds from the cookbook go to support the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Foundation.
Friedman desires to continue sharing her story as long as possible. Goodman, despite his plans to attend college far from his grandmother's residence, wishes to carry on with the project. Friedman believes that the Holocaust is not only her story but a warning about the dangers of hatred and prejudice towards others. She believes that humanity must learn to look within themselves and consider the implications of their actions.