Reunited one last time

Reunited one last time

Left: Asia Gutmann (back) and
Vera Friedman as teenagers. Right: Vera and Asia holding hands in their
hospital beds.
Left: Asia Gutmann (back) and Vera Friedman as teenagers. Right: Vera and Asia holding hands in their hospital beds.

IN Aš, Czechoslovakia, in 1946, Vera Friedman was born to Holocaust survivors Lili Herskovitz and Armin Meisels, the family subsequently moving to a refugee camp in the new State of Israel in the hope of a new life.

In a refugee camp in Ferenvault, Germany, in 1947, Rivka (Asia) Gutmann was born to two adoring parents who had lost everything and everyone during the war.

Desperate for a better life, in the early 1950s, both families set sail for Melbourne. It was there, at Prahran Central Primary School in 1959, that 12-year-old Asia met Vera, and the two soon became the best of friends.

Both girls attended Bnei Akiva and for 40 years were involved with WIZO, organising functions and fundraising.

The two women were also each other’s bridesmaids, shared holidays in Queensland and later in life played bridge together and enjoyed a weekly coffee.

The friendship saw them support each other through various illnesses, Vera experiencing complications from contracting rheumatic fever as a baby and open heart surgery at age of 52.

Asia, meanwhile, battled Crohn’s disease for over 40 years and other illnesses including DVT and an autoimmune disease.

Earlier this year, those concerns saw Asia admitted to hospital. In the last few days of her life in late February, pain treatment finally allowed her to escape her discomfort, giving her the opportunity to say her goodbyes.

Asia’s daughter, Amelia, wrote to her mother’s friends, thanking them on her behalf for their friendship – but Vera didn’t reply.

Eventually Vera’s daughter, Tania, made contact, sharing the unfortunate news that Vera was also very ill and, unbeknownst to both women, on the same floor in the same hospital.

With only moments until Asia’s nurses started the infusion which would send her into a state of unconsciousness, Amelia recalled, “I was in a moral dilemma – to stay with my mum while she can still speak or go and find Vera and give her mum’s message.”

Running down the corridor, she found Vera’s room, where – tears streaming down her cheeks – she read aloud her mother’s note.

Half-an-hour later, some kind nurses wheeled Vera’s bed into Asia’s room. For the very last time, 62 years after they first met, the best friends were reunited. Gripping each other’s hands and with weak voices they said their last words, laughing one final time as they remembered their youth.

Asia passed away on February 25, followed by Vera just two weeks later on March 14.

As Tania reflected, “Amelia and I and our families are grieving the loss of our mums at only 74, but finding some comfort that Asia and Vera are together.”

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