Confusion about Hadassah Lieberman’s past


PRAGUE, Aug. 29 (JTA) — A Czech magazine is calling into question details about the Jewish background of the Czech-born wife of Democratic vice-presidential candidate Joseph Lieberman.

Tyden magazine last week claimed that international media, and the White House, had published inaccurate information about Hadassah Lieberman’s family history.

Lieberman herself, however, disputes most of the same claims.

Among claims disputed by the magazine are that Lieberman’s father was a former chief rabbi of Czechoslovakia and that he was a successful lawyer in Prague. They also contradicted media reports that Lieberman was born in a Czech refugee camp for Holocaust victims.

Lieberman says her father was a lawyer and a rabbi, but agrees that Samuel Freilich was never the chief rabbi of the former Czechoslovakia, though she says he was ordained in Europe.

The claim that Lieberman’s father held that position has surfaced in some news reports and was mentioned in a 1995 White House news release.

Sally Aman, Lieberman’s spokeswoman, maintains that the false information were mistakes that are being recycled. Lieberman has always been consistent about her past, Aman said.

Historians and official representatives of the Czech Jewish Community are still concerned about the details surrounding the life of the senior Freilich, who died in 1993.

“I am sure that” Freilich “was not a rabbi,” said Alexander Butik, a historian based at the Jewish Museum in Prague. “He became a rabbi in the U.S. after the war.”

Colleague Andrea Braunova, a librarian, said, “Maybe he was a local rabbi somewhere, but I can find nothing to confirm that.”

Tyden also referred to a report in The Washington Post that said Freilich was a successful lawyer in Prague between the world wars. The magazine said no Samuel Freilich appeared on the official lawyers’ register of the time, nor was he registered with the Justice Ministry. It pointed out, however, that he might have worked as a company lawyer.

Inquiries about Freilich have been complicated by a recent privacy law that bars the country’s national central archive from releasing any citizen’s personal data, including birth details, health records, and their religious and political affiliations.

Details of Freilich’s early days, therefore, are sketchy. There are records that show a Samuel Freilich from the village of Maydan in the former Czechoslovak region of sub-Carpathian Russia — now part of Ukraine — graduated from Charles University in Prague in 1934.

Little is also known about Freilich’s life between the completion of his studies and the start of World War II. Butik said he believed Freilich returned to his home region and set up several Jewish schools, but could not confirm this.

Another area of confusion relates to the circumstances of Lieberman’s birth. Lieberman says she was born in Prague in 1948, but some news reports claimed she was born in a refugee camp for Holocaust survivors.

What has not been disputed is that Lieberman’s mother, Ella Viderova, survived the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps, while her father endured a Nazi slave labor camp. The couple married in 1946 in Prague, and moved to America several years later.

(JTA correspondent Sharon Samber in Washington contributed to this report.)

Recommended from JTA