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PORTRAIT OF A SURVIVOR - FANNY LEHRER
by Alexander Kimel
Fanny Lehrer, a Holocaut survivor has passed away. How are we going remember this remarkable woman?
When people die their book of life (Sefer Hachaim ) is closed and we get a panoramic view of their , their trials and tribulations, successes and failures and soon afterwards a new book is open- "The Book of Remembrance" (Sefer Hazichronot) . We collect our thoughts and decide how we are going to remember the deceased. What image will we retain in our memory?
How am I going to remember Fanny Lehrer? I knew Fanny for about 70 years, and for me she was the embodiment of life hardened survivor. Fanny Lehrer was a survivor. She survived many cataclysms in her life. She survived the Holocaust, she survived a nasty cancer of the stomach, she survived the death of her beloved husband Michael, and she survived years of loneliness without a family.
Fanny not only survived but she flourished. She reached an advanced age of 97 years, retaining a youthful gait, had a tremendous zest for life, a remarkable memory and a clear mind. She had this magnetic gravitation toward people. I remember that one day we went to the Atlantic Bank to notarize a signature. She turned around to me and said: "Look what a beautiful woman she is." Then she repeated those words to the blushing clerk. She enjoyed contact with people. I like her she said I am going to bring her a present for Christmas.
In my eyes FANNY survived through a remarkable adaptation to changing conditions coupled with a big dose of perennial optimism. She never complained. When asked how she feels - the standard answer was "Today not so good, but tomorrow will be better."
Her adaptation is more remarkable because she always led a sheltered life: in the beginning she was sheltered by her parents and later by her husband. She mastered the adaptation process. When the Holocaust came she survived two years of hiding in the forest without food or shelter. In the forest she developed an eye infection so she brewed barks from different trees until she found a remedy for her infection.
Fanny's survival of the Holocaust is short of the miraculous. During the liquidation of the Ghetto, they were caught by the Germans and led to mass grave and ordered to collect the bodies of people shot while escaping. It was a gruesome job, supervised by a tall SS-man with a vicious dog.
At the end of the day Fanny asked the German, "What will happen to us?"
"Donnerwetter! The German yelled. "I am taking the dog for a walk. When I come back I will shoot you all."
When he turned around the whole group escaped and an hour later Fanny and Michael found themselves in the middle of the forest, where after walking for hours the found an abandoned hut and settled down.
It was summer and they survived on wild berries and some bred given to them by peasants. When the winter set in they faced death trough starvation or freezing. Michael decided to in return to the shtetl to get help from a Ukrainian acquaintance. They had nothing to lose.
When they knocked at the door, the woman refused to let them in." There are Germans in the house. Run for your life." She warned them.
Michael determined to get help, pushed her aside, and ran inside and a minute later returned with a down blanket. This blanket saved them from freezing.
Fanny was an adaptable person and I believe that her greatest miracle of adaptation occurred during the last phases of her long life when left alone without a family, without a husband she found a new motivation to live she became a sharp dresser, showing a remarkable acumen for color combination, spending long hours on fixing her wardrobe, fixing her blouses and sweaters. She used her dressing talents to build bridges to people.
A month before her death, we vent to the Theater in Boca Raton. During te intermission people approached her telling her how nice she looks. Suddenly she turned to a young couple, standing at the wall - "Do yuo speak Polish?" she asked.
"No, I don't, but my parents came from Poland." said the man introducing himself- "My name is Avi Hoffman."
This was Avi Hoffman, the producer and star of the Jewish Theater. ("Too Jewish"). For Fanny his en
counter was more memorable than the play. She was a peoples woman.
I will remember Fanny as a remarkable woman who already in her nineties dressed like a diva, walked straight on high heels, had a zest for life, and projected an image of striving humanity. She was remarkable and I wish that we all could reach her age, in such good physical and emotional condition.
Good Bye Fanny we are going to miss you deeply. Without you our winters in Florida will never be the same.
Fanny with Her Husband Michael