Eva Lassman, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust who spent the latter years of her life speaking out against hatred and bigotry in the Inland Northwest, died on Wednesday evening at Deaconess Medical Center. She was 91.
She came to Spokane in 1949 with her late husband, Walter “Wolf” Lassman, also a Holocaust survivor.
Her funeral will be Friday at 11 a.m. at Temple Beth Shalom, 1322 E. 30th Ave., with a graveside service to follow at Mount Nebo Cemetery.
Her son, Joel Lassman, said anyone from the community is welcome to attend.
On Wednesday, family and friends had gathered at Deaconess in the hours leading up to Mrs. Lassman’s death about 8 p.m.
“She will definitely be missed, but not forgotten,” said former Spokane Mayor Sheri Barnard, a close friend who was at Deaconess during the evening.
Born in Lodz, Poland on March 28, 1919, to an Orthodox Jewish family, Eva Lassman fled to Warsaw following the Nazi invasion and held out there with other Jews for more than three years.
She was captured by the Germans following an unsuccessful uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and shipped to the Majdanek death camp. She was forced into labor because she was relatively young and healthy.
“They took everything from us. I could not take my ring off of my swollen finger. They cut it off with pliers. The air smelled of burning flesh. It was a scene that no human being should ever have to witness,” she told a group of students in an appearance in 2001.
She was sent into a munitions factory and also cleaned the quarters for other workers and German officers.
When she became ill, she sought help from a doctor who secretly told her to run from the infirmary. If the Nazis had known she was sick, the doctor told her, she would be to death, Joel Lassman said.
She met her husband Walter “Wolf” Lassman at a survivor camp south of Munich, Germany, following the war.
“My mother is the most courageous person I’ve ever known,” said Joel Lassman, of Washougal, who was born in the camp along with a brother, Richard Lassman, now of Seattle.
Those four members of the family came to Spokane in 1949 under the sponsorship of the Spokane Jewish community.
A third boy, Syl Lassman, was born to the couple in Spokane. He now lives in Carnation, Wash.
Walter Lassman, a tailor, ran Walt’s Clothing shop at 114 N. Washington St. He died in 1976.
Eva Lassman remained in the home she shared with her husband on East 35th Avenue.
Over the years, she was outspoken about the horrors of the Holocaust, and had been recognized numerous times for her ongoing efforts to warn the public about the insidiousness of hate.
She had been hospitalized for complications stemming from heart failure in recent months and had also received care at an assisted living facility.
Joel Lassman said his mother also had suffered fractures recently, but was determined to recover and get back into her home.
“She was so resilient,” he said. “I guess it was just her time to go.”
For years after coming to Spokane, the Lassmans remained quiet about their wartime ordeal. The children knew of their parents’ past, but the couple never elaborated, Joel Lassman said.
His mother, he said, became more vocal in later years, especially after attending a Holocaust gathering in 1983 in Washington, D.C., which inspired her to tell her story.
She appeared repeatedly at community events, and was especially driven to deliver her message of tolerance to school children.
George Critchlow, an associate law professor at Gonzaga University and a founder of GU Institute for Hate Studies, said Lassman was an invaluable resource in organizing the well-attended Anne Frank Exhibit at GU in 2000.
She helped train docents and spoke at exhibit events.
“Eva was an important ingredient to making that succeed,” he said. “She was so committed to educating about the Holocaust.”
Lassman was a frequent letter writer to The Spokesman-Review.
In 2006, she wrote, “I am a Holocaust survivor and know firsthand how vicious propaganda incites hate.
“I lived with vicious hate and promotion of ignorance, racism and intolerance since childhood. Therefore, after I survived the Holocaust, I decided to use my experience of pain and suffering to promote understanding and tolerance in lieu of hate.”
In 1998, she appeared at a human rights rally timed to coincide with a hate march by Aryan Nations white supremacists in Coeur d’Alene.
In 2002, Lassman was awarded a presidential commendation for her work by Whitworth College, now Whitworth University.
Gonzaga gave her an honorary doctor of laws degree in 2002.
She was a leader in the creation in 2005 of the Spokane Community Holocaust Memorial next to Temple Beth Shalom.
In 2006, she received the Carl Maxey Racial Justice Award from the YWCA.
She was given the first Eva Lassman Award from the Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies in 2009. The award annually recognizes individual achievement in combating hatred.
Lassman, who was born Eva Bialogrod, lost nearly all of her family in the Holocaust.
A memorial to the Lassman and Bialogrod families was erected at Mount Nebo Cemetery in Spokane in 2009, the site of more than 400 Jewish burials.
“She was one of the lucky ones,” Joel Lassman said.