Holocaust survivor Fritzie Fritzshall dies – the forward


Holocaust survivor and social activist Fritzie Fritzshall died on Saturday at the age of 91.

As a survivor and president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, Fritzshall has dedicated her life to fighting hatred and prejudice, inspiring people to take a stand and speak out to make our world a better place.

Fritzshall’s own survival story is heartbreaking. The Nazis occupied Fritzshall’s hometown of Klucharky in Czechoslovakia and deported Fritzshall, his mother and two brothers to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp when Fritzshall was only a young teenage girl. His mother, two younger brothers and other members of his family were murdered.

“There is no way to describe what it was like to be in the wagon starving, cold, without food, without water, watching pregnant women begging for water, watching different people die in front of you for lack of food. of food, air and water, “Fritzshall said in a previous interview.” My own grandfather died in that car for Auschwitz. “

In order to survive, she pretended to be older than she was. Fritzshall endured a year of torture at Auschwitz and a related Nazi labor camp, where she worked as a slave in a factory. In 1945, she was finally freed by the Soviet army after escaping to a nearby forest on a death march.

In 1946, Fritzshall came to Skokie, Illinois, a northern suburb of Chicago, and reunited with his father, who worked for Vienna Beef and had come to America before the Holocaust to provide his family with money from abroad.

Fritzshall married an American WWII veteran who had been a prisoner of war in the Pacific, and she made her living in Chicago as a hairdresser, becoming an avid Cubs fan.

Fritzshall’s call for activism began in the late 1970s when neo-Nazis threatened to march through the streets of Skokie. Terror and outrage over seeing swastikas in their community prompted a group of survivors to establish the Holocaust Memorial Foundation of Illinois in 1981 to fight bigotry through education.

“We said we came to a free country, and we don’t need to be afraid to say we’re Jews,” she recalls. “We don’t need to be afraid to go out on the streets and be identified. We no longer wear the yellow armbands.

In 2009, the long-held vision of the survivors of Chicagoland to open a world-class educational institution became a reality with the opening of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie. It is the third largest Holocaust museum in the world and, since 2010, Fritzshall has served as its president.

Under Fritzshall’s leadership, the museum has grown to inspire more than 285,000 people each year. Fritzshall has been recognized as an innovator in Holocaust education, embracing technology as a means of engaging future generations.

Susan Abrams, chief executive of the museum, said Fritzshall was “extraordinary”. She was courageous, selfless, wise and forward thinking. And despite everything she had been through, seeing the worst in humanity, she was optimistic and hoped to create a better world for others.

Fritzshall, said Abrams, was willing to “share her stories over and over again for a range of different audiences and embrace technology that will live on for generations to come in the most impactful way.”

The Illinois Holocaust Museum collaborated with the USC Shoah Foundation to create the very first interactive holograms of survivors. The theatrical experience allows museum visitors to interact with holograms of survivors who lived through the Holocaust and allows people to ask questions that elicit answers in real time from pre-recorded video interviews with survivors of the Holocaust. ‘Holocaust. The story of Fritzshall is one of the holographic records.

Later this year, the museum will premiere ‘A Promise Kept’, a virtual reality experience where visitors can stand alongside Fritzshall as she returns to Auschwitz and tells the story of the promise she made. made to 599 women who, with every crumb of bread, held their lives during the Holocaust. This is the first time that virtual reality technology will be used to archive, preserve and produce testimonies of Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz.

“She felt the weight of that responsibility for that promise,” Abrams said.

In a social media statement, Governor JB Pritzker said of Fritzshall: “She embodied the decency and kindness that she craved from others. She was strong, loyal and caring.

Cardinal Blaise Cupich of the Archdiocese of Chicago said in a social media statement: “The world has lost a clear voice against bigotry, and I have lost a good friend. Fritzshall and Cupich visited Auschwitz in July 2019.

“By courageously sharing his story, Fritzie has inspired us and now it’s up to us to make sure his work continues and the world never forgets the Holocaust,” he said.

Fritzshall is survived by his son Steve; a daughter-in-law, Hinda; and grandsons Scott and Andy.


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