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, will be laid to rest in Spokane today.
She died Wednesday at Deaconess Medical Center at age 91 with family and friends nearby.
Lassman came to Spokane in 1949 with her late husband, Walter “Wolf” Lassman, also a Holocaust survivor.
Her funeral will be at 11 a.m. today at Temple Beth Shalom, 1322 E. 30th Ave., with a graveside service to follow at Mount Nebo Cemetery.
Joel Lassman, one of three sons, said people from the community are welcome to attend.
“She will definitely be missed, but not forgotten,” said former Spokane Mayor Sheri Barnard, a close friend.
Born in Lodz, Poland, on March 28, 1919, to an Orthodox Jewish family, Eva Lassman fled to Warsaw following the 1939 Nazi invasion and held out there with other Jews for more than three years.
She was captured by the Germans following the unsuccessful uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 and shipped to the Majdanek death camp.
“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 2001.
Rather than being put to death, she was forced into labor because she was young and healthy.
She was sent to work in a munitions factory and 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 put to death, Joel Lassman said.
After liberation, she met her husband, Walter “Wolf” Lassman, at a displaced persons camp south of Munich, Germany.
“My mother is the most courageous person I’ve ever known,” said Joel Lassman, of Washougal, Wash., 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 had been hospitalized periodically in recent months and had also received care at an assisted living facility.
Joel Lassman said his mother also had suffered broken bones, but was determined to recover and get back to the family home on East 35th Avenue.
“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.