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Arye Ephrath

Born: April 7, 1942, Bardejov, Slovakia
Died: April 21, 2024, Union Hall, VA

Arye Ephrath was born on April 7, 1942 in Bardejov, a city located at the time in Slovakia, a client state and ally of Nazi Germany. Arye was born at a particularly fraught time for Jews in Slovakia. Just weeks earlier, the first deportations of Slovak Jews to Auschwitz had begun. That spring and summer, Slovak authorities rounded up tens of thousands Slovak Jews for deportation. Their initial focus was on teenagers and young adults, like Arye’s parents Miriam and Shmuel Friedman. Many Jews temporarily hid hoping to avoid deportation. While trying to avoid detection, Miriam gave birth to Arye in the basement of their home with the help of a housemaid. Later that evening, her Catholic doctor arrived to treat her. Shmuel was absent during the birth as he had escaped to the wooded hills outside of town.

As time passed, Arye’s parents grew fearful for their and their new son’s lives and decided it would be best for Miriam and Arye to hide in Budapest, Hungary. Even though Hungary was also an ally of Nazi Germany, many Slovak Jews believed that they would be safer there. Hungary had its own antisemitic regulations and while life for Jews was restricted, most Jewish communities in Hungary remained intact at that time, unlike in Slovakia. Miriam gave her one-year-old son sleeping pills, placed him in a sack on her back, and walked at night across the border to Hungary. While Miriam moved around in Budapest to avoid detection and persecution, Arye was hidden in an orphanage. The risk was too great for his mother to visit him.

Shmuel stayed behind in Slovakia and continued to operate the family-owned general store. He had obtained an essential work permit from the Slovak government. This afforded Shmuel protection until spring 1944 when the Slovak government revoked his work permit.

In August 1944, German troops invaded Slovakia to combat an increase in partisan activity. After crushing the Slovak National Uprising, a revolt led by Slovak resistance groups, the Germans began rounding up Jews and partisans. Arye and his family reunited and escaped to a village in western Slovakia called Šišov along with Shlomo and Rosa Schöndorf and their son Tzvi (Vicki.) A local priest agreed to hide the adults, but not their young sons as they posed too much of a risk. Ján and Irena Mierni, a local shepherd and his wife, agreed to take in Arye and Vicki. Since the Miernis had four girls, Jan required that Arye and Vicki dress like females in order to avoid suspicion from the townspeople. Arye complied, but Vicki—who was a year older than Arye—refused and was consequently restricted from stepping outside the Miernis’ house. Jan also asked that Shmuel and Miriam sign a document giving them the right to adopt Arye in the event that the parents did not return for their son. Shmuel 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 frightening 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 cart-driver, Ján Galko, came to the church to warn both couples. Ján and his wife Pavela offered to protect them. At first they were hidden in the house, and then the Galkos dug a huge hole in the dirt floor of the barn and covered it with slats of wood and a haystack to create a hiding place. Shmuel, Miriam, Shlomo, and Rosa hid there for a number of 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.

In spring 1945, as Arye turned three, the Soviet Red Army drove German forces out of Slovakia and Arye was reunited with his parents. After the war, the family lived in Košice, Czechoslovakia for three years before relocating to Israel in 1948. After finishing his military service in Israel, Arye came to the United States, 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. Arye volunteered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.