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Richard Friedemann

Richard Friedemann

Tallahassee - After an amazing, miraculous and inspiring journey through life, Richard A. Friedemann peacefully passed away at home surrounded by his loving family. His 92 years began in Krakow, Poland as the 2nd child of Leon Friedmann & Lilla Friedmann (Frischer). After a short idyllic childhood in a home filled with love, good food and art, the Nazis invaded Poland and tore their lives apart forever. Initially, Richard and his mother fled to Lvov, while his father and brother Zygmunt were called up by the Polish Army reserve. After a short stay in Lvov, the Soviets invaded from the east. Richard and his mother Lilla fled back to Krakow. They were re-united with the rest of the family with Poland now under Nazi rule. The family was denounced by a traitorous neighbor, the gestapo arrived and the family was forced from their home with only a few items. They fled to a nearby village located near Krakow. In the village they were hidden by a widowed Christian woman (Mrs. Adela Pilch). Unfortunately, the Nazi's einsatzgruppen began investigating the village. Not wanting to endanger the Pilch family, the Friedmann's traveled back to Krakow, where the family was forced to separate. Lilla was denounced and was murdered in a notorious prison in Krakow. Leon and Richard were swept up and imprisoned in Plaszow Concentration Camp. Richard's brother Zygmunt came to Plaszow after being caught spying for the British. Richard's father was murdered in Plaszow camp. The night after his murder, Richard and Zygmunt pulled their father's body from the cart destined for the mass grave, crawled under an internal wire and buried their father in a hand-dug grave. After Plaszow, Richard and Zygmunt began a hellish journey through Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Kaufering-Landsburg, Augsburg, and the underground Messerschmitt-werke facility. Surviving numerous brushes with death, Richard and his brother were forced on a death march from one of the sub-camps in April of 1945. The march was designed to kill prisoners through exertion. Those that survived the march were led to a clearing in the woods near Klimach, where they were to be murdered. A U.S. bomber squadron flying over the area spotted the execution field, popped smoke and alerted a nearby tank destroyer unit of the situation. The U.S. unit (part of the Rainbow Division) rolled up on the site and saved the survivors of the concentration camp from execution. After liberation Richard joined the Polish Guard, hoping to return to his beloved Poland. Unfortunately, the communists had already infiltrated and taken control of Poland. The Polish Guard unit was put on a train that was ostensibly going to Poland; however, the train was diverted and it became apparent to some on the train that Russia was the real destination. Richard and a small group of others jumped from the train. Those that remained on the train were most likely executed by the NKVD. Upon his return to the U.S. base, Richard was offered transport to the U.S.A., which he accepted. Shortly after his arrival, he joined the U.S. ARMY and served honorably during the period of the Korean Conflict in Battery C, 169th AAA BN. After the war, he began his schooling and worked a number of jobs. One particular job had him working as a cook in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. During his first summer of work there, he met his future wife Katharine Oliver. During his second summer in Old Orchard Beach, he proposed and was married to his beloved wife Katharine in 1954. He continued his schooling at the University of Rhode Island and received his BA in 1956. In the same year his first child, Karen was born. He later earned his master's degree in Social Work from Simmons College in June of 1958. In 1960, his son Mark was born. Shortly after Mark's birth the family moved from New England to Iowa and Richard began his professional career as a pyschiatric social worker. During his professional life, Richard assisted so many people it is difficult to count. He saved numerous people from suicide and counseled scores of people with serious mental, physical and emotional problems. He was very involved in the civil rights movement and in a catholic charity at St. Edwards in Waterloo, Iowa that was focused on renovating homes for impoverished families. He wrote a number of papers including a definitive group therapy program for single-mothers on welfare. He was active in the community sponsoring art exhibits and taking part in the foreign exchange program, hosting several different foreign students. He was an avid collector of art and loved traditional Polish folk music and modern music, especially Pink Floyd and the Doors. His charitable works are too numerous to count. During his years of work in Waterloo, he would travel to Vinton, Iowa on Mondays after work to counsel patients in the hospital for little or no pay. He adored his family, making up stories to tell his children at bedtime, including "Jonathan the Brave" and "Peppi the Pirate". Richard exposed his family to art, culture and travel, taking them on numerous vacations including trips to almost every single state in the Union. He was an obsessive stamp collector, amassing a huge collection of covers and stamps. So much so, that he was forced to open a business selling stamps and covers at stamps shows around the country where he accumulated more stamps, but more importantly many life-long friends. Richard's past history remained a mystery to his children until 1996, when his legal efforts to win back his home in Poland finally succeeded. During that year, he took his son Mark to Poland to reclaim his home and while there, revealed the terrible history of his early life. In addition to his past history, Richard also introduced Mark to a number of old and new Polish friends and Polish culture itself. His life was kept secret from his children out of fear that history might repeat itself. Part of that secret included his Jewish heritage. His children were born and raised catholic as Richard had a strangely significant interaction during his time in the concentration camps. During his time in Auschwitz-Birkenau, he was in an isolation cell when a voice from the adjoining cell gave him words of encouragement and faith. Richard found this event odd and it formed a lasting memory. Later in Dachau while in a similar cell, a voice spoke up from the next cell over. It was the same words of encouragement. Richard was astonished and asked who it was that was speaking to him and if this person had been in Auschwitz. It was a catholic priest, who had miraculously been the one in Auschwitz as well. His name was Father Harte and this strange encounter formulated Richard's conversion to Catholicism. Richard and his loving wife Kay moved from Iowa to Florida in 1984, living in the Jacksonville area until 2016. He was a member of the Polish-American club there and treasured his time dancing, drinking and conversing with his fellow Poles. He was a true patriot to America and to Poland. In 2016 he moved to Tallahassee to live with his son Mark, as his beloved wife was ill and her care was becoming difficult. Richard, Mark and Karen returned to Poland in 2018 for the publication of Richard's book (in Polish) "One of Many" and to continue the long hard work of restoring the family home. Lucid, witty and brilliant to the end, he spoke so lovingly of his wife of 65 years, proudly saying, "Look at my beautiful wife". She is beautiful and now we're also looking at the beautiful life you lived.

Proceeded in death by Leon, his father, Lilla, his mother, Zygmunt, his brother and his extended family in Poland. Also proceeded in death by Dorothy Oliver, Jean Turner, Perry Turner and John Conroy. He loved them all.

Survived by his wonderful wife Kay, his daughter Karen, his son Mark, his daughter-in-law Chitnuchar, 2 grandchildren, Jessica and Shane and 4 great-grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister-in-law Janet Conroy, the awesome Conroy clan and the three wonderful Turner sister's. His love for you all is immense.

Services for this humble and incredible man will be held on Saturday, August 31st at 1:30 pm at the MeadowWood Memorial Park, 700 Timberlane Road, Tallahassee, Florida 32312.

In lieu of flowers, please donate to the Alzheimer Project in Tallahassee, Florida.
Published in Tallahassee Democrat on Aug. 25, 2019
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