Gideon Frieder was born on September 30, 1937, in Zvolen, Czechoslovakia (today Slovakia) to Armin Abraham-Abba and Ružena (née Berl) Frieder. In 1938, his family moved to the town of Nové Mesto nad Váhom after his father, a rabbi, was offered a position there. Gideon’s younger sister Gita was born in Nové Mesto on August 8, 1940.
In 1938-39, Nazis and their Slovak accomplices dismantled Czechoslovakia and created a Slovak client state ruled by pro-Nazi leader Jozef Tiso. Beginning in spring 1942, the Slovak government collaborated with the Nazis in the deportation of Slovak Jews to German-occupied Poland. Initially the Frieder family was relatively safe from deportation because Rabbi Frieder was one of the most prominent rabbis in Slovakia. During World War II, he was part of Slovakia’s underground “Working Group” (Pracovná Skupina), a secret Jewish rescue organization. Rabbi Frieder was responsible for its communications with Slovak and German authorities. The Working Group bribed Slovak officials and German SS Officer Dieter Wisliceny, in the hopes of stopping the deportations. Rabbi Frieder kept a diary which was later published as a book entitled To Deliver Their Souls: The Struggle of a Young Rabbi During the Holocaust. His writings are an important source for historians studying the “Working Group.”
In the summer of 1944, the situation for Jews remaining in Slovakia, including Gideon’s family, further deteriorated. In August 1944, German troops invaded Slovakia to combat an increase in partisan activity. In response, Slovak resistance groups launched a revolt known as the Slovak National Uprising (Slovenské národné povstanie, SNP) from the town of Banská Bystrica, a city in central Slovakia. Their goal was to drive out the Germans, overthrow the Tiso government, and join Slovakia with the Allies. Gideon, his mother and sister fled Nové Mesto, making their way to Banská Bystrica. Rabbi Frieder fled separately, fearing that since he had been part of the “Working Group”anyone close to him would be killed if he were caught.
The Germans responded with brutality to the uprising. In October 1944, as German units approached Banská Bystrica, Gideon and his mother and sister fled to the mountains alongside partisans. They were caught in a massacre in the village of Staré Hory. German planes bombed and shot at them from the sky. His mother and sister were killed; Gideon was injured but survived.
A Jewish partisan, Henry Herzog, took Gideon to the village of Bully, where he was placed with the family of Paulina and Jozef Strycharszyk. Henry Herzog later wrote his memoir, ...And Heaven Shed No Tears, in which he described helping to save Gideon. When the Slovak Uprising was crushed in October 1944, Germans began rounding up Jews and partisans. Thousands were killed or deported to camps. Gideon was given a fake name and pretended to be a relative of the Strycharszyk family. He remained in Bully until 1945, when he was liberated. Gideon’s father, who also survived the war, later found him. His father remarried but died in 1946 at the age of 35.
Gideon’s paternal grandparents Filip and Rozalin Sara Frieder were deported from Sered internment camp. They did not survive. His maternal grandmother Hermina Berl survived, but her husband Max-Meir Berl did not.
After the war, Gideon and his stepmother immigrated to Palestine on an unauthorized transport in 1947, a year before Israel’s War of Independence. He remained in Israel until 1975, when he immigrated to the United States. He was the A. James Clark Professor Emeritus of Engineering and Applied Science at the George Washington University in Washington, DC. Pauline and Josef Strycharszyk were named Righteous Among the Nations in 2018. Gideon volunteers at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.