She was 18 when the Nazis invaded Poland, spending the next six years doing forced labor in the Jewish ghetto and confined in concentration camps.
By age 24, Rosa Rapaport was liberated, her parents and brother dead. Four years later, Rapaport arrived in New York with her husband and son. It was May 18, 1949.
"They were newborn when they came to the United States," said her only child, Harry Rapaport of Melville. "They counted May 18, 1949, as their birth date."
Rosa Rapaport died Dec. 31 of complications from old age at the Gurwin Jewish Fay J. Lindner Residences, an assisted living center in Commack. She was 88.
Born Rosa Witelson in Lodz, Poland, in 1921, she lived a normal, middle-class life, said Harry Rapaport. Then her family was forced into slave labor in a Jewish ghetto in Lodz, where she sewed Nazi uniforms, said her son.
In August 1944, one of Rapaport's family members was to be sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp, Harry Rapaport said. Rosa's father was supposed to go, but instead Rosa sneaked out in middle of the night and took his place, spending three months in Auschwitz.
Later, Rapaport would learn her parents and younger brother were killed in that notorious camp's gas chambers. "There was a lot of guilt because she survived and her family didn't," said Harry Rapaport. "She never got over that."
For the next year, Rapaport was transferred to two other camps via a death march. She was liberated from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in April 1945 and then met her husband, Morris Rapaport, said her son. Upon liberation, Rosa Rapaport returned to Poland, learning that her family didn't make it. The couple returned to Germany before arriving in New York. They lived in Brooklyn before moving to Fair Lawn, N.J., where they worked at a coat factory.
Friends and family members describe Rapaport as a doting grandmother and great-grandmother and a caring, devout woman who inspired those around her.
She made a point of talking about the Holocaust wherever she went. "You would take her to a doctor's office and she would say, 'Do you know about Hitler?' " said her granddaughter, Brenda Propis of Melville. "She wanted everybody to know what she went through and what everybody went through so that it wouldn't happen again."
Rabbi S. Jerome Wallin, who works in the assisted living center where Rapaport lived, said she frequently attended his Yiddish classes. "She was a strong lady and very, very proud of her Judaism," he said. "She had an impact, she made a big difference."
In addition to her son and two granddaughters, Rapaport is survived by four great-granddaughters.
A funeral was at Gutterman's in Woodbury last Sunday, followed by a burial at Beth David Cemetery in Elmont.