Gerda Friedman was born in Muenster, Germany in 1914 to the Waideck family. Her father, a World War I veteran, was a prosperous businessman and patriotic German. Prior to Hitler’s rise to power, she experienced no anti-Semitism in her community.
In 1933, Hitler set laws that segregated Jews from the rest of the community. Gerda was not allowed to attend normal school or see her non-Jewish friends, and her father was forced to sell his successful business. In response, the Jewish community developed their own organizations and, in 1935, their own school system.
During Kristallnacht in 1938, Gerda’s husband was arrested by Nazis and sent to a concentration camp. He was freed when he stated was eligible to study in England. At the time, the Nazis were releasing prisoners if they could leave Germany. Through doctored papers supplied by her uncle, Gerda obtained a passport from Nazi officials and fled to Holland with the help of a smuggling ring with only 10 marks. She was the only Jewish girl smuggled in this way. Gerda remained in contact with her husband during this time. Gerda’s parents, who could not follow Gerda to Holland, died in separate concentration camps after being seized in 1941.
Gerda was eventually contacted by the American Consulate granting her access to the U.S. She was reunited with her husband in September 1942. Gerda and her husband eventually moved to Cape Coral where her husband was a rabbi.