Maria Fridman was born in 1925 in Riga, the capital of Latvia, as Mirjam Fridmane. In the early 1930s her family moved to Ventspils, a port city in northwestern Latvia. Since a large proportion of the city's population was German, German became Mirjam's second spoken language. In 1932 she entered a German-language school, but after the nationalist coup d'état by Kārlis Ulmanis in 1934, she was transferred to a Jewish school. At this school, Mirjam became a member of the right wing Zionist youth organization Beitar, where she received an initial paramilitary education and became a good sportswoman. In June 1940, Latvia was occupied by the Soviets (and a month later it was annexed to the Soviet Union). Many of Mirjam's friends and their parents were deported by the Soviets to Siberia as members of the bourgeoisie or simply as unreliable elements of the population.
With the beginning of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, Mirjam succeeded in escaping from Ventspils to Riga. In the capital, she volunteered for the Red Army. The first reaction of the brigade commander was "Baby, when we will open a kindergarten at our brigade, we will call you." However, Mirjam insisted and she was drafted. While her brigade was retreated through Estonia, Mirjam took part in skirmishes with the advancing Germans. When she was wounded, in Tallinn she was released from the brigade and taken, with other wounded Soviet soldiers and civilians, to the transport ship "Sibir", which was bounded for Leningrad (now St. Petersburg). On the way, the transport was bombed in a German air raid and it sank in the Gulf of Finland. Mirjam was wounded and, unconsciousness, she was rescued by a Soviet submarine and brought to a hospital in Kronshtadt, near Leningrad. The military commandant of Kronshtadt tried to persuade her to remain in the rear, but Mirjam asked to be sent to the front. To facilitate this she changed her birth year from 1925 to 1924 and, thus, succeeded in being assigned to the 22nd NKVD Division.
Although Maria spoke German fluently, it soon became clear that she could not serve as a military translator due to the fact that her knowledge of Russian was inadequate. She could not serve as a nurse either since even the age of 16 (according to her new documents) was too young. Consequently, she served in reconnaissance, mainly monitoring German field radios, but also carrying out reconnaissance patrols on foot. At the end of 1941, when she was supposedly 17, she became a military nurse.
In July 1942, Fridman took part in the forcing of the Tosna River. The objective of the Soviet commandos was to create a bridgehead on the left side of the Neva River and, thus, prevent German forces from completing the blockade of Leningrad. The operation proved harder than the Red Army command had presumed. Neither the Germans nor the Soviet spared their soldiers, with the result that the battle for this narrow stretch of the Neva shore (the "Nevskii Piatachok") continued until May 1943. Nurse Fridman spent a year caring for wounded at this battle site.
For the rest of the war Fridman served in radio intelligence and as a translator in western Russia, the Baltics and Germany. She received her first and the only military order, that of the Red Star, in Berlin in May 1945.
After the war, Fridman and her husband continued their military service. In 1953, at the peak of the antisemitic "Doctors' Plot" affair, both of them were dismissed from the army. They settled in Riga.
In the 1960s, the principal of a school in Kirovsk (a town close to the former "Nevskii Piatachok") decided to name his school after "the famous reconnaissance woman Maria Fridman". Maria was invited to the school and spoke to the pupils, but the school was not named in her honor. The principal confidentially told Maria that the Party authorities had told him that the school could not bear the name "Fridman."
Maria Fridman became disillusioned. In 1975, after an antisemitic incident, she requested permission to emigrate. After being humiliated more than once, the war hero Maria Fridman left the Soviet Union. She and her daughters immigrated to Canada. In Toronto, she met her second husband, Iekhezkel Son, also a Latvian Jew. After their marriage she used the name Maria Son.
[According to Svirskii, Grigorii. Mat' I machekha: rasskazy veteranov. North York, Ontario: Erudite Books, 1990. Pp. 71-86]