Annie Bleiberg jumped off a train on the way to the Nazis’ Belzec concentration camp and later survived Auschwitz — events she regularly described to visitors to the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove.
Bleiberg, of Woodbury, died Aug. 1 at age 97. Her legacy will live on among those who heard her speak, said Steven Markowitz, chairman of the center’s board.
“Annie Bleiberg stood out to me among the Holocaust survivors in terms of her resilience, her strength and her determination to not let what happened to her in her past affect her life that followed afterward,” he said. “I think she provided a very strong lesson to young people and to adults as well that you need to overcome whatever happened to you and we all have to find our inner strength.”
Bleiberg died of heart failure while at the Glen Cove Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, her daughter, Susanne Seperson of Locust Valley, said.
Several years ago, singer Gloria Gaynor, best known for the 1978 disco classic “I Will Survive,” contacted the Nassau Holocaust center, asking to speak with a Holocaust survivor for inclusion in her 2014 book, “We Will Survive: True Stories of Encouragement, Inspiration, And the Power of Song.” Markowitz connected her with Bleiberg.
“We became instant friends,” Gaynor said Sunday in a telephone interview. “What drew me to Annie is that she suffered so much and yet was so giving, kind and caring. She was an absolutely amazing person, so uplifting and full of life.”
A few weeks before Bleiberg died, Gaynor and her manager, Stephanie Gold, visited her in the nursing center.
“Her eyes lit up when she saw Gloria,” Gold said. “She said, ‘I love you Gloria,’ and Gloria said, ‘I love you, Annie.’ ”
Bleiberg was born Oct. 1, 1920, in Oleszyce, Poland. After she jumped off the train and walked back to Oleszyce, a Christian family sheltered her until a member of the Polish underground gave her a false identification card, Seperson said. A school classmate betrayed her and, after police severely beat her, she was thrown into a jail in the Jewish ghetto in Krakow. After the ghetto was liquidated, she was sent to Auschwitz and then to a Czechoslovakian work camp until Soviet soldiers liberated it in 1945. Her mother and younger sister died in concentration camps.
Bleiberg returned to Poland, where in 1946 she married a childhood friend, David Bleiberg, and, after moving to Germany, emigrated to the United States. David Bleiberg died in 1978.
While raising her daughter in the Bronx, Annie Bleiberg didn’t talk often about the Holocaust, Seperson recalled.
“She didn’t want me to be upset that I was Jewish,” Seperson said. “She wanted me to feel proud I was Jewish. All you heard is the Jews were victims and she didn’t want me to grow up thinking I was a victim.”
It wasn’t until the two attended the opening of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., in 1993 that she heard her mother’s entire story.
“I think she was ready to talk about it,” Seperson said.
About a decade later, Bleiberg became a docent at the Nassau County center.
“She felt very strongly no one should forget,” Seperson said. “She was really afraid that, in her own words, anti-Semitism would again rear its ugly head” as the Holocaust receded into the past and she was dismayed to see a resurgence in anti-Semitism before she died.
In addition to Seperson, 70, Bleiberg is survived by son-in-law Robert Seperson of Locust Valley, three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.ervices were held at Gutterman’s Funeral Directors in Woodbury and interment was in Mount Ararat Cemetery in Lindenhurst.