By Deborah Vietor
Although most of us are all too familiar with the atrocities and genocide that took place at the hands of the Nazis during World War II, Fanny Krasner Lebovits leads us on a painful, yet inspirational and extraordinary journey of faith, hope and resilience in her new book.
Born Feiga-Chase, “Fanny” Judelowitz, spent her youth in the port city of Libau, Latvia. Her early life was filled with family Shabbat dinners and Jewish holidays spent singing with her mother playing piano, while Fanny danced with her adoring father, Herman. But life changed dramatically for Fanny first the Russians invaded Latvia in 1939 and then in mid-1940 Hitler’s army attacked Libau. In her book, the reader travels with her as she most eloquently describes the surreal and horrendous acts committed at each of the five concentration camps where she survived, alongside her sister. Facing overwhelming challenges, she recalls vividly how she rebuilt her life over many years on three continents.
Fanny’s father was taken by Nazi soldiers one week after the Germans gained control and told he would be transported to a work camp along with her uncles and hundreds of other men from the town. They later learned the men were lined up and shot, many digging their own graves. Over the years, Fanny was to lose nearly 80 relatives through the war.
At the age of 19, Fanny was pulled from a line, then let go during Channukah in 1941, one of many miracles, as she refused to leave her mother and sisters behind. Sadly, her grandfather, aunt and 2 small cousins were killed. Over the course of the war, frequent “selections” occurred, with Nazi soldiers removing younger children from their families. In 1943 Fanny and her remaining family were transported by cattle cars to the Kaiserwald concentration camp in Riga, a place she describes as a “living hell.” Only 1% of the Jews from Libau survived the war. Fanny and her younger sister, Jenny worked as housekeepers for the Gestapo who at times left them bread wrapped in paper in trash baskets.
Later, Fanny was transferred to the Riga-Reischbahn labor camp in Latvia, where she worked as a nurse. In 1944, on Erev Yom Kippur she and her sister were piled once again like cattle onto a ship en route to Danzig.
Although there were atrocities, too many to mention, she was to find freedom after the war. Following the emancipation, Fanny traveled to Sweden, working with the World Jewish Congress in Stockholm, securing the United Nations vote to establish the State of Israel. She moved to South Africa in 1949 and then San Diego in 1979. Fanny became President of the entire Southwest Region of Hadassah, attending more than 30 national conventions. She continues to support many Jewish organizations today, illustrating her love of family and support of Israel. An accomplished public speaker, she has been honored and received awards by many organizations, including the Woman of Distinction Award, Book of Builders Award, President’s Award, and Citation for Distinguished Leadership and Service to the Jewish People.
Additional honorary awards include: Congregation Beth El, Woman of Valor Award, 2017, Fanny Krasner Lebovits Appreciation Day, San Diego City Council, 2017 and an honor from the California State Assembly on Holocaust Memorial Day, 2013. She has visited Israel over 35 times and is proud to have celebrated her 90th birthday in Israel.
A remarkable, amazing woman of valor with an incredible story of survival, transcending hatred, as she never believed all people were bad and that above all odds she would survive. Through her lens, we see humanity at every level, as she illustrates how she became the light, through love and faith in G-d, commitment to family and community during the most devastating and fractious of times.
As Fanny often says, “Hate is never good and love is never bad.” Her mantra to her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren has been, “When we are flat on our backs, we can only look up.”
Selwyn Isakow, co-founder of Shabbat San Diego and Partners in Torah San Diego, wrote the foreword for this amazing book and states that through Fanny, he is a better person. As he has spent time with Fanny, and listened to her stories at Temple Beth El over the years in La Jolla, he became enraptured by her story in overcoming tremendous challenges. Her success in love, caring for family, business and leadership inspired him to encourage her to document her memories, meeting with her for more than two years on Saturdays, researching and documenting all he learned.
Memories, Miracles & Meaning … Insights of a Holocaust Survivor” by Fanny Krasner Lebovits is available now wherever books are sold.