Helen Grau was born Hasia Schwarz in Brody, Poland, on March 20, 1920.
A dreamer and a rebel, her childhood dreams died with her family, friends and community. Left to starve, she spent over a year hiding in a hole underground in an often-frozen forest with worms slithering below and the sound of bullets above. Captured, Helen was forced to work in labor camps as well as the Brody Ghetto. And she cheated death twice by two separate firing squads.
But Helen’s story was not that of a typical survivor and immigrant to America.
Despite the horrors she endured, she had the gift of laughter and making others laugh, smile, and feel good. She loved to sing, dance, and would engage anyone in conversation. She was the life of the party and could be charming, quirky, insightful, and shrewd – with a reputation for telling naughty jokes!
Her work? Helen, an amazing cook and baker, worked tirelessly as a seamstress on gowns for weddings – while designing clothing for herself and family. One can only guess what she might have become in another time.
Before the war, in her childhood and youth, Helen’s life was filled with the warm love of her family. That came from her father, Nisan, a gifted leather shoe designer, her mother Celia, the loving matriarch, along with Helen’s sisters Rose and Toni, and her adoring, protecting brother Maximilian. Of the five, only Toni and Helen survived.
But her children Nathan and Cynthia came and brightened her life with renewed hope. Son-in-law, Art, and daughter-in-law, Julie, were as her own. Her granddaughters Danielle and Phebe brought her even more radiant light to the family.
So, Helen knew better than most the gift of life and love and she shared it with everyone she touched. It did not matter who you were, your race, religion or ethnicity, friend or stranger, stray animal, child or senior…. Helen could engage anyone with a warm heart!
Her charity, like her laughter, knew no bounds.
Incredibly patriotic, Helen equally shared a love for the State of Israel. And she valued Jewish traditions throughout her life, continuing to light Shabbat candles every week until the end of her 101 years. She died November 3, 2021.
Helen will be missed for eternity by her friends and family.