'Hate didn't rule her life': Friends, family honor Holocaust survivor Fritzie Fritzshall

Friends and relatives gathered in person and online Thursday to honor the late Fritzie Fritzshall, a Buffalo Grove resident who as a teen was imprisoned in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp complex and later became a voice for fellow survivors - and victims - of the Holocaust.

They described Fritzshall - president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center in Skokie and a prominent speaker on the Holocaust - as a hero, a great humanitarian and a beloved friend.

They talked of her wisdom, her strength, her selflessness and her bravery, and of what one speaker called her almost infinite capacity for love.

"She had a life of tragedy and a life of triumph," said John Rowe, a past chair of the museum board. "This was a very special person. And her memory is a very great blessing."

Fritzshall, 91, died Saturday.

The memorial, which was held at the museum and livestreamed on its Facebook page, coincided with the inaugural Holocaust Survivor Day, an event designed to honor the dwindling number of people who survived the genocide that left 6 million Jews and millions of other people dead.

Other Holocaust survivors attended and spoke.

Born and raised in what was then Czechoslovakia, Fritzshall spent about two years at Auschwitz-Birkenau. She escaped during a forced march of prisoners from the camp in January 1945 ahead of the Soviet Union's Red Army approach.

Fritzshall didn't talk about her experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau for many years. Once she opened up, though, teaching others about the Holocaust became an important part of her life.

But as state Sen. Sara Feigenholtz of Chicago said during the memorial, Fritzshall wasn't consumed by hate for the Nazis who murdered her mother and brothers.

"Hate didn't rule her life," Feigenholtz said. "She taught us to be kind to people, and to be kind to unkind people."

In a video message, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a longtime supporter of the museum who helped launch the facility, remembered meeting Fritzshall for the first time at an organizational meeting. He spoke of how a cacophony of voices discussing a proposal for the project silenced when Fritzshall raised her hand to speak. And when she was done expressing her opinion, Pritzker said, Fritzshall's proposal won the day.

"One person can make a difference, she always said," Pritzker recalled. "Fritzie was that one person for many people."

The event's final speaker was Cardinal Blase Cupich, who traveled to Auschwitz with Fritzshall in 2019. In a prerecorded video, Cupich spoke of humanity's debt to the victims of the Holocaust.

"We owe it to them to say never again," Cupich said. "We owe it to them to tell their story."

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