“What Wonderful People”
Blast from the Past is an ongoing series of posts reprinting articles from historical issues of The Volunteer.
“What Wonderful People” by Leo Rosenberg
Originally published in The Volunteer, Volume 10, Number 3, December 1988.
One of my sons, who lives in Cleveland, sent me a human interest item the other day. I had just about started to read it when I realized why he had taken the time to clip it and mail it. It was a fascinating memoir told by this elderly Ohio resident about her grandparents and their children and the farm on which they had lived in northern New York. It involved Palestine before it became the State of Israel, the Spanish Civil War, and the vets of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. At this stage of my life not to many things impress me, but when I read about this lady’s family and the contributions they had made over fifty years ago, I felt that they were owed the recognition and the tribute that I am about to give them.
In 1919 Joseph and Sara Freidman bought a 160-acre farm in the upper Hudson River Valley of New York. Joseph had worked in the textile industry of New York City until he had decided that he and his wife and eight children would have a better and healthier life if they left the city and moved to the country. The farm was 250 years old but sill productive and the novice farmer and his family not only learned to work the land and satisfy their own needs, but were able to house and feed as many as 40 boarders each summer.
The Friedmans were not isolated from the world around them. They became involved in the affairs of the community and in events far beyond its borders. They were political in thought and action. Even though as a group they did not espouse the same ideology their hearts and minds were focused well to the left of center, and all of them worked to advance the various causes in which they believed. As early as 1935, then acres of the farm were set aside and Joseph and his sons gave agricultural training to groups of volunteers who were bound for Palestine to help build a Jewish homeland. These pioneers knew little or nothing about farming but were anxious to learn so that they could be useful in the Kibbutzim they were going to join. For four years, until 1939, these future Israelis came to farm and were taught by the Friedmans.
In 1937 another volunteer, this one a member of the family, left the farm for a foreign destination. He was Jack Friedman, on his way to Spain and the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. During the war, Jack, overseas, and the rest of the family at home, did what they could to help save the Republic. But what this family did after the war was lost and ended was even more dramatic.
In 1939 the war was over, but not for the Freidmans. Their next project was to help solve a new and vexing problem that had not manifested itself previously. Quite a few vets had not been able to leave Spain with the contingents of Americans who departed in October of 1938 and January of 1939. Sick and wounded, many without proper documentation, they had finally crossed over into France only to be greeted with internment and jail. Released at long last, they had to travel clandestinely in order to reach the States and their homes without running into more trouble. A number of these vets were badly in need of medical and nursing care but were afraid of applying through regular channels for this help because they could not take the chance of coming under official observation and investigation.
The Friedmans did their part in solving this problem by setting up a small hospital in one of their guest-houses and taking every vet who came or was brought to them. Even this was not enough for the family. On a number of occasions when it became necessary and there was no other alternative, they crossed the border into Canada in their farm wagons, met and picked up the vets who were stranded there and could not cross the border openly. They then loaded the wagons with hay, in which they hid the vets, and waited until it became dark enough to take the chance of crossing back to the American side with their human cargo. With as little delay as possible, the new patients were transported to the hospital where they could receive the aid and comfort that the Friedmans were so ready to give them. There they stayed until they were fit and able to travel to their homes without attracting too much unfavorable attention. Many a Lincoln vet owed his health and safety to this wonderful family that did so many fine things willingly and with no thought of reward.
It is no wonder that this lady (the author of the clipped article) tells us so graphically about the accomplishments of the Friedmans, remembers her grandparents and their children with so much pride and has so many good memories of the years which she spent with them.
I never had the opportunity to meet and know the Friedmans, but, after learning about them and what they did to help make this a better and happier world, I want to thank them now for all the fortunate people whose lives they touched.