Lieberman, 58 – wife of Connecticut Democratic Sen. Joseph Lieberman, the onetime 2000 vice presidential and 2004 presidential candidate – said that as she grew older, her parents revealed more and more about their past.
"My father often said it's going to be 1,000 years before they can really understand what happened during the Holocaust," said Lieberman, who will speak about the experience of growing up as the child of two Holocaust survivors at the Memorial Ceremony for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs.
This year's event – on Sunday, April 30, at 1 p.m. – will be held at the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs on 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia.
Lieberman's father, attorney and rabbi Samuel Freilich – who died in 1993 – was imprisoned and made part of a Jewish slave labor battalion in Hungary during the war. Her mother, Ella Wieder Freilich – who died in 2004 – survived both the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, although many relatives perished there.
The couple met after the war; their daughter was born in Prague in 1948. The new family moved to New York soon after, eventually settling in Gardner, Mass., where Freilich took a post as a pulpit rabbi.
"I was raised in a small town where no one was like me, no one one was born where I had been born, and no one had parents that had gone through a similar experience," said Lieberman, adding that her mother and father were the only Holocaust survivors in a Jewish community that numbered less than 100 families.
"Things have totally changed," said Lieberman, referring to general awareness of the Holocaust today, as well as society's acceptance of Jews. "To have someone of my background able to be the spouse of a U.S. senator and candidate for president – I never take that for granted."
Discussion of the Holocaust was a central theme in her household, as was the importance of Jewish peoplehood and maintaining religious observance. She explained that her father always talked about how important it was to maintain religiosity in spite of the Holocaust, but added that he often struggled with his sense of faith.
"There were so many times he questioned God," recalled Lieberman. "He would ask, 'How did you allow this to happen?' He didn't know what to believe."
Lieberman, who holds a masters degree in international relations from Northeastern University, has spent much of her career working on women's health issues. In 1983, she married Joseph Lieberman, her second husband. Between them, they have four children and three grandchildren.
These days, she's focused on helping her husband, who is in the midst of a reelection campaign.
In her talk, Lieberman plans to discuss how hard her parents and other survivors had to work just to get on with their lives and reestablish themselves in a new country.
"These are survivors from a period of history," she said, "where the aim was to mutilate all Jews."