The two most fortunate events in Michael Fried’s life occurred in Holland, and both involved women.
The first was the work of his mother, Lonny Wartelsky, a young Jewish widow and mother of two young children thrown into a detention camp by Nazi Germans.
“It wasn’t a death camp, but many of the people there were sent on to death camps,” Fried said. “She thought her status made us candidates to be sent on.”
So she approached Rudolph Fried, a Jewish man she did not know who did paperwork for the camp, and she made him an offer.
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“My mother asked him to marry her for the duration of the war, because she felt a married woman with children was less likely to be transferred,” Michael Fried said.
Not only did Rudolph Fried marry Lonny Wartelsky, he took on responsibility for the family and saved them countless times. Whenever their names appeared on the list of those to be sent on to death camps, he removed them.
Now 79 years old and living in DuPont, Michael Fried remembers when Canadian tanks rolled in to liberate the Westerbork Camp in Holland on April 10, 1945.
“I was 10 years old, but I decided that day I wanted to be a soldier,” he said.
After the war, Lonny and Rudolph Fried remained married — and would for 55 years, until Rudolph’s death.
With their two children, they immigrated to America and, as soon as he was old enough, Michael Fried joined the Army.
He served for 41 years, on military intelligence assignments in Germany, Vietnam, the Netherlands and Washington state, where he retired as a chief warrant officer in the 201st Battlefield Surveillance Brigade at what was then called Fort Lewis.
Oh, and that second lucky occurrence involving a woman in Holland?
“I was stationed in Germany and had a two-week leave in Amsterdam,” Fried said. “I wanted to get a souvenir, and I was looking in a shop window. Then I saw Rita …”
He was 23, she was 17 — a Dutch girl with old-school parents.
“I think the first time I saw him, I knew I would marry him,” Rita said.
The feeling was mutual.
“Just seeing her through the window, I knew I wanted her to be the mother of my children,” Fried said.
Rita gasped, laughed and poked her husband of nearly 58 years.
“We got to know each other while he was on leave in August of 1956, then we wrote and called each other until Christmas, when we got engaged,” she said. “We got married in September of 1957, and nine months later had the first of our two children.”
Both loved the Northwest, so when Fried retired in 1996, they stayed in DuPont. Except he never really retired, other than on paper.
On Tuesday, in a ceremony for a Holocaust Day of Remembrance, Fried was honored by the 201st for his volunteer work for the past 18 years.
He volunteers seven days a week, from 6 a.m.-2 p.m. Last year alone, he gave more than 2,000 hours. Except for vacations and a few family day trips, he hasn’t missed a day on base in 18 years.
“I love being here, I love serving, and Rita wants me out of the house,” he said, winking.
Asked about the five years he spent in a detention camp, Fried seemed uncomfortable, and Rita shook her head.
“He has stories, so many wonderful stories, and I’ve heard them since we got married,” she said. “But he rarely shares them. I think some are still too painful.”
Fried remembered the death of his father when the Nazis bombed Holland in 1940 and the camp that soon became his home. He remembered serving as a lookout for his mother as she found ways to steal enough food to keep her small family alive.
Although Rudolph Fried would come to be his father after the war, Michael didn’t know the man at the time he married his mother.
“He was just someone I met in camp,” Fried said. “It was many years before I realized what my mother had done to keep us alive.”
Fried will never forget his mother, who died two years ago at age 100. And on Tuesday, when he was honored for his volunteerism at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, it somehow seemed appropriate.
It was Lonny Wartelsky Fried’s birthday.
Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638 larry.larue@ thenewstribune.com