PHILADELPHIA — Rosalie Chris Lerman, a survivor of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi death camp who was the wife of the founder of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and a passionate advocate of Holocaust remembrance, has died. She was 90.
Daughter Jeanette Lerman-Neubauer said her mother, who passed away Thursday of natural causes, celebrated her 90th birthday in March.
“She was a vibrant, fully mobile, fully functioning, extraordinary ebullient 90,” Lerman-Neubauer said.
Born in 1926 and sent to Auschwitz as a teenager, she married Miles Lerman, a Holocaust survivor and partisan fighter in 1945. They arrived in New York City two years later and went on to have a chicken farm in Vineland, New Jersey, and a home heating oil business that grew into a major distributorship.
Miles Lerman was the founder and chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, and she became a philanthropist and lecturer. Her daughter said she was one of the survivors who talked about her experience early on, worked to gain access to records about the Holocaust and especially “to document moral choices that people made in the face of Nazism.’
“Some survivors are traumatized, but having survived the war and Auschwitz, my mother felt like everything was possible and she was bound and determined to go out and do it,” her daughter said.
Lerman returned to Auschwitz-Birkenau a decade ago, accompanied by four generations of relatives, and showed them the camp as she talked about her experience.
“’Here’s where I got off the train,’ ‘Here’s where they shaved my head,’ ‘Here’s where they stripped off my clothes,’ Here’s where they tattooed my arm,”’ Lerman-Neubauer recalled her mother saying.
She also described staring all night long at the chimney towering above the camp and belching flames and a horrible smell that pervaded the area.
“But even then, the stories she told were about the small acts of human kindness among the different women prisoners, that she held close to assure herself that Auschwitz was the aberration and the world would become normal again if people could hold on to human kindness,” Lerman-Neubauer said.
Lerman-Neubauer said her mother’s view was that she grew up in a time of great convulsions — depression and war and being sent to a concentration camp — but that was only 10 years of her life.
“Then she came to America and she lived to 90, so the next 70 years were filled with all the wonderful things one would hope to do in life, building a family, building a business, building a community, the Holocaust museum,” Lerman-Neubauer said.