Lillian Guzenfiter Wilen Lazar was born in Warsaw, Poland in the 1920s. Sent to the Warsaw Ghetto as a teenager, she participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, throwing stones from rooftops as the Nazi soldiers entered the Ghetto on the eve of Passover in April 1943. Later, toward the end of the uprising in May 1943, she attacked a German soldier with a pair of heavy fabric shears. As she told The New York Times in 1993, she knew her attack would be useless but, “That’s what I grabbed. I was ready to fight. This was my ammunition.”
That attack earned her vicious blows from a rifle butt and left her bleeding as she was herded onto a train car to Majdanek, a death camp. She believed her own death was imminent, but she was wrong. At Majdanek, she was instead sent to labor camps in the Polish countryside.
Toward the end of World War II, the Nazis abandoned the camps, and Lillian remained in hiding until she was liberated by Edward (Eli) Wilen(czyk), whom she later would marry.
Lillian and Edward made their way to Italy by foot and rail. Their first daughter, Isabella (Elizabeth), was born there. After several attempts to emigrate to Israel, Lillian, Edward, and Isabella gained passage to the United States. They ultimately settled in New York City, where Susan, their second daughter, was born.
Lillian was the only member of her large European family to survive the Holocaust, but she and Edward created a new large family of their own: two daughters, five grandchildren, and 13 great-grandchildren.
Reflecting on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1993, 50 years after the resistance, Lillian said, “I’m very proud of the people we lost in the uprising. They did the impossible – even when I think about it now. What we did, it’s impossible to believe.”
Lillian Lazar died from complications of COVID-19 on May 3, 2020.