Remembering an old friend

SUNDAY SNAPSHOTS

Roommate: In Palestine in the...

January 18, 1998|By Michael Ollove

Remembering an old friend; Roommate: In Palestine in the 0) '30s, Herbert Froehlich shared a room with a Swede named Wallenberg Raoul Wallenberg.

Herbert Froehlich's roommate moved out in 1936, yet all these years later, the man is never far from Froehlich's thoughts. "I think about him day and night," Froehlich said on a recent afternoon in his Pikesville apartment.

In the Palestine town of Haifa in 1935, Froehlich was just one of thousands of Jewish refugees desperately searching for lodging. one house, the owner told him he was a little too late; she had just rented out her last room. Perhaps, she suggested, her new tenant, a young Swedish national, would be willing to share the space.

That evening, Froehlich returned to meet Raoul Wallenberg.

They lived together for the next 18 months, until Wallenberg returned to Europe. It was later, during World War II, that Wallenberg secured his stature as a "righteous Gentile" by arranging safe passage for thousands of Hungarian Jews, thus sparing them from extermination.

Arrested by the Soviets in Hungary toward the end of the war, Wallenberg died in a prison in 1947, although his fate would not be revealed until decades later.

Historians believe Wallenberg's time in Palestine helped forge his attachment to the Jewish people. If so, Froehlich may well have served a crucial purpose.

Froehlich remembers Wallenberg as a kind friend whose inquisitiveness was inexhaustible, particularly about Jewish customs. On their weekend hikes around Haifa, he would constantly pepper Froehlich with questions about Jewish life. "He always asked about Jewish prayers and wanted to know more and more," Froehlich said.

Froehlich remembers Wallenberg attending a kaddish service at the home where they lived. "There was a guy there talking, and Wallenberg patted him on the shoulder and said, 'Shhhhh.' He had more respect for Jewish laws than the Jew did. I've always remembered that."

He also remembers Wallenberg's distress over Adolph Hitler's growing and unchecked power in Germany and what that portended for the rest of Europe.

Wallenberg left Palestine in 1936, though he maintained a correspondence with Froehlich. During the war, his letters to Froehlich made oblique reference to his rescue work in Hungary. Toward the end of the war, after the Soviets occupied Budapest, Wallenberg wrote Froehlich that a Russian general had summoned him to explain his activities there. That was the last Froehlich heard from his friend.

Froehlich emigrated to Baltimore in 1938. For years afterward, he wore the ski hat Wallenberg had given him. On a trip to Israel a few years ago, he took his wife, Carolyn, to the apartment where he and Wallenberg had lived. Outside, he found a plaque commemorating Wallenberg. From time to time, Froehlich has related his experiences with Wallenberg to Holocaust researchers, most recently to director Steven Spielberg's Shoah Foundation.

In 1950, Froehlich realized a long-time ambition by opening a music store in northwest Baltimore. He named it "Shubert" after the German composer Franz Schubert, who, in his poverty, was supported by three sisters named Froehlich, distant relatives of Herbert's. At age 65, Froehlich turned the store over to his son Myron, but he never stopped working.

Even at age 88, Froehlich, a cheerful man who hums under his breath, puts in 10 hours a day, tending to customers at the store or traveling around in full suit and tie, tuning pianos, a skill he learned as a child in Germany. He has, he confides, a perfect ear.

While he tunes the pianos, his mind drifts back to the slight young man he knew long ago on Arlosorov Street in Haifa. "I feel an obligation to him, to a man who did so much for human beings. How can we forget him?"

Two and a half years ago, Bob Burroughs was just another frustrated inventor. He sat in his Germantown mobile home, staring at his checkerboard, wishing he could come up with a variation of checkers. In the midst of his musing, Burroughs stood up, knocking two dice off a shelf and onto the checkerboard.

Eureka!

Next month, Cube Checkers -- the fruit of that fortuitous moment -- will be displayed at the American International Toy Fair in New ++ York City, billed as one of the world's largest toy trade shows. Backers -- including Bill Cosby -- are hoping to interest major toy-store chains in selling the game, which they think has the potential to become a popular family pastime. Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but Burroughs, a 76-year-old retired precision sheet-metal mechanic, is confident.

"I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this game will sell," he says. "My game gives you just as much strategy as chess but is as easy to play as checkers."

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