Arye Ephrath was born on April 7, 1942 in Bardejov, Czechoslovakia (present-day Slovakia), the same day the first deportation of Jews from his hometown was implemented. The Jews of Bardejov had been ordered to report to the town square that day, but his mother, Miriam Friedman, ignored the order. To avoid detection by the Nazis, Miriam gave birth in the basement of their home with the help of a housemaid. Later that evening, a Catholic doctor arrived to treat her. Arye’s father, Samuel Friedman, was absent during the birth as he had escaped to the wooded hills outside of town to evade the Nazis.
Fearful for their new son’s life, Arye’s parents decided it would be best for Miriam to return to her hometown in Hungary. Miriam gave her one year old son sleeping pills, placed him in a sack on her back, and walked across the border to Hungary. Over the next couple of years, Miriam moved from inn to inn to avoid detection by authorities, as Hungary had enacted their own antisemitic policies and became an ally of Nazi Germany. Arye, meanwhile, was hidden in an orphanage and was not allowed to interact with his mother for their own protection.
Samuel stayed behind in Czechoslovakia and continued to operate the family owned general store. He had obtained an essential work permit from the Nazis as the general store provided services for them. This afforded Samuel protection for some time.
In 1944, the Nazis revoked Samuel’s work permit and he escaped to a village in western Czechoslovakia called Sisov and sent for Miriam and Arye. A local priest agreed to hide Samuel and Miriam, but not their young son as he posed too much of a risk. Jan and Irena Mierni, a local shepherd and his wife, agreed to take Arye under certain conditions: since the Miernis had four girls, Jan required that Arye dress like a female in order to avoid suspicion from the townspeople. Jan also asked that Samuel and Miriam sign a document giving them custody of Arye in the event that they did not return for their son. Samuel and Miriam agreed to these conditions and entrusted Arye to the Miernis, who changed his name to Annicka for the duration of his time in hiding.
While living with the Miernis, Arye was treated like a member of the family and the girls took very good care of him. He helped with feeding the sheep and goats on the farm. Whenever strangers entered their small village, Arye was forced to hide in a bin of coal located in the corner of the main room in the house until it was safe. This was very scary for Arye because he was afraid of the dark.
In the meantime, rumors had spread around the village that the local priest was hiding Jews. The priest’s driver, Jan Galko, came to the church to warn Arye’s parents. In order to save Samuel and Miriam, Jan and his wife offered to hide them in his barn. The Galkos dug a huge hole in the dirt floor of the barn and covered it with slats of wood and hay to create a hiding place. Arye’s parents hid there for eight months. Miriam left the barn every other week or so to visit her son, much to the dismay of Samuel who thought it was too risky.
On Arye’s third birthday, the Soviet Army liberated Czechoslovakia and Arye was reunited with his parents. The family lived in Kosice, Czechoslovakia for three years before relocating to Israel in 1948. After finishing his military service, Arye studied aerospace engineering in Florida and eventually received a scholarship to MIT to obtain his Master’s and PhD degrees. He became a professor of Engineering and worked in various laboratories during his career. He now volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.