Survivor STORY

Shelly Rosenfeld was about 20 when the cattle car dumped her family at Dachau, the German concentration camp where Nazi soldiers separated families on arrival. Older people were sent to death, the younger ones to forced labor.

When it came time to split Mrs. Rosenfeld from her youthful-looking mother, Sara, she said in perfect German: "This is our sister. She needs to be with us," said her son-in-law, Dr. Gene Hirsh of Atlanta.

That's how Shelly saved her mother's life.

Born to a well-to-do family in Lithuania, Mrs. Rosenfeld grew up in a home that prized culture. She spoke at least six languages and regularly attended plays and art galleries. But for four years during World War II, the family lived in the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania, a concentration camp in Latvia and then Dachau in Germany.

After Allied soldiers liberated the camp, Mrs. Rosenfeld found a home in a bombed-out building in Munich, where other survivors lived. And there, she met her husband, Joshua Rosenfeld.

The two moved to Israel in 1950, where she bore two daughters, Frieda and Edie. Both children became infected by the polio virus and Mrs. Rosenfeld returned to Munich to seek medical care. In 1958, she and her daughters moved to Buffalo, N.Y., where her sister and mother relocated several years earlier. Her husband stayed behind and died of a heart attack a short time later.

Mrs. Rosenfeld raised both girls by working two jobs and ultimately followed daughter Frieda to Atlanta. Frieda, who has since died, was married to Dr. Hirsh.

For 20 years, Mrs. Rosenfeld kept books for Avanti Furs and then Scientific Atlanta. She retired at 72, but continued to work part time, caring for those afflicted with Alzheimer's disease at the Weinstein Center.

She had a group of friends who also survived the Holocaust, and "as there became less of them, she just made other friends," Dr. Hirsh said. "But she most enjoyed being with the children."

"She was always dignified, always carried herself with grace," said her daughter, Edith Leff of Buffalo, N.Y. Mrs. Leff said she'll never forget one ungraceful moment, when she tried to teach her mother how to chew gum and blow bubbles.

"She's trying to do this, and the gum goes flying out of her mouth, 30 feet in front of her," Mrs. Leff said. "She was never one to really laugh, and I remember her laughing that day." Mrs. Leff also remembers an expression her mother often used: "Don't make plans. When you make plans, God laughs."

Additional survivors include a sister, Celia Gleser of Atlanta; and four grandchildren.

Explore themes found in this biography:

Shelly Rosenfeld