Freda Narev was born Freda Malacki, the youngest of three daughters, in 1937, in the Polish shtetl Widze (Vidzy), now part of Belarus.
Freda's father Yakov Malacki, was a retailer and the Jewish representative on the local town council; her mother, Kriena Malacki, was a home maker and part-time teacher of Slavonic languages at the local high school. The Malacki family had lived in Widze for several generations.
Shortly after the Germans invaded Widze, local anti-Semitic thugs (“riffraff”) gathered 15 prominent members of the Jewish community – including Freda’s father – at dawn, executed them and buried them in a mass grave. Her mother was last seen in the Vilna ghetto (Vilnius, Lithuania). Her sister Ester disappeared without a trace.
A Polish Catholic lady, Pania (Mrs) Karlowichowa, whom Freda’s family had once helped, took the three-year old Freda into her home in a country residence about 10 km outside of Widze and brought her up as a Catholic, thus saving her from certain death. Freda was told that she was Jewish but she should never let on about that to the neighbours. She was told that the Jews prayed to two tablets in heaven but the Catholics prayed to the “real God”. So of course after that Freda prayed to the ”real God” too.
Pan, (Mr) Karlowichowa, was the husband of Pania Karlowichowa and the mayor of Widze. He had been arrested by the Russians as a capitalist and taken to Siberia, so Freda lived with Pania Karlowichowa and her son until the end of the war. At that time her then 17-year old sister Liza returned to Widze to reclaim her younger sister. Liza had managed to escape from the Vilna ghetto with a group of young people, one of them being her husband Itzhak Porus. They survived in a partisan group in the local forest.
Pania Karlowichowa was reluctant to hand Freda over to a 17-year old girl without any means of support. Ultimately, of course, she did and Liza became Freda’s “mother”. With the generous sponsorship of the Svirskis family, Freda emigrated with Liza and Itzhak to New Zealand and settled in Auckland where Freda was appreciated for her sensitive renditions of Jewish folk songs, mainly in Yiddish.
Freda and her husband Bob, also a Holocaust survivor, are actively involved in Holocaust education in Auckland. Together with Claire Bruell, Freda is also involved in the Auckland oral history group, having conducted many interviews with other survivors and refugees.
While and after raising a family, Freda has also been active with both Jewish and general community work, including marriage guidance, the Home and Family Society, the Shalom Court rest home, and the Citizens Advice Bureau. She was co-founder and coordinator of the Senior Outreach Service for the Jewish elderly. For all her activities she has been awarded a Queen’s Service Medal.
Image above header: Photograph of Freda Narev reproduced here with the permission of Freda Narev. Photograph by Stephen Robinson © JoM 2012