MILWAUKEE – Philip S. Freund, a local Holocaust survivor who fled Nazi Germany aboard the infamous MS St. Louis luxury cruise liner, died Jan. 15, 2017. He was 85.
At the time of his birth, the Freund family was wealthy, fortunate and happy, according to an obituary. However, this changed with the rise of the Nazi regime. After the violence of Kristallnacht in November 1938, Freund’s mother decided to take her family and flee (Philip’s father had died).
Philip S. Freund became a refugee to England as a passenger on the St. Louis in 1939 with his grandmother, mother and sister.
The BBC calls the MS St. Louis the “ship of Jewish refugees nobody wanted.” On May 13, 1939, more than 900 Jews fled Germany aboard the luxury cruise liner. They hoped to reach Cuba and then travel to the United States.
“I remember sitting in Havana’s harbor,” Freund told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in November 2015. “We were devastated. These people knew what would happen if we went back to Germany.”
The ship was turned away from Havana and then Florida and ultimately returned to Europe, where more than 250 were killed.
Freund and his family were granted asylum in London and then made their way to the United States, he said in a “survivor interview” with the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC) of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. Freund joined the U.S. Army, was on active duty from 1951 to 1954 and served for 40 years. He became a colonel.
Freund volunteered to assist with Holocaust education locally and around the country and was part of the HERC speakers bureau. Upon meeting with then-Sen. Herb Kohl, the Wisconsin Democrat, the senator co-introduced a 2009 Senate resolution honoring the memory of St. Louis passengers.
“Don’t hate somebody for their religious beliefs, their political beliefs – whatever their beliefs are,” Freund said in his survivor interview. “Accept people for who they are. We lost too many people ….”
He attended the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee, where he earned his bachelor’s degree, and earned a master’s degree at Marquette University. He worked as a teacher and later a guidance counselor for Milwaukee Public Schools. Upon retirement from MPS, he worked at Whitnall Middle School while also serving as a volunteer police officer for 15 years with the Whitefish Bay Police Department.
He was involved with the American Legion, the Blood Center of Wisconsin and many other organizations.
Freund is survived by wife Belle Anne Freund, as well as children Mark J. Freund (Laura Collins-Freund), Jacqueline Fassbender, Peggy Yee and Perry Freund, and eight grandchildren
In lieu of flowers, donations are welcome to The Disabled American Veterans (DAV.org/donate), the Shriners Hospital for Children (314-872-7807), or Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun in River Hills.
Schramka Funeral Home assisted with Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun on Jan. 19. Interment was at the Southeast Wisconsin Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Union Grove.