Jointly countering hate and anti-Semitism
Cardinal Blase Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, and Holocaust survivor Fritzie Fritzshall have become good friends and visited Auschwitz together last month (July 4, 2019). This trip was unique and remarkable in having a Holocaust survivor lead an American Catholic Cardinal, who represents the third largest Catholic diocese in the United States, through the horrors she experienced in the concentration camp.
This special trip demonstrated unity between the two religions at a time when there is a rising tide of anti-Semitic rhetoric and activity in the US. At almost 90, Fritzshall doesn’t want the memory of what happened there to be forgotten—so the atrocity is never repeated. Fritzshall and Cardinal Cupich want to jointly and visibly counter the current rise of hateful discourse and rise in hate crimes and anti-Semitism happening in world right now.
Fritzshall was born in 1929 in Klucharky, Czechoslovakia. After her town fell under Nazi occupation, 13-year-old Fritzie, her mother, and two brothers were deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp. Eventually, Fritzshall was moved to a slave labor sub-camp. On the 1945 death march from Auschwitz, she was finally liberated by the Russian army. In 1946, Fritzshall came to the United States and was reunited with her father, who had escaped the Holocaust. Her mother, two younger brothers, and other family members all had perished.
Cardinal Cupich and Fritzshall met last August, when both attended and spoke at The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center’s special screening of the feature film Denial, which recounts Deborah E. Lipstadt’s legal battle for historical truth against David Irving, who accused her of libel when she declared him a Holocaust denier.
Fritzshall had vowed never to return to Auschwitz; but when she learned Cardinal Cupich was going to be in Poland and was interested in visiting the site, she offered to accompany him and give him a personal, first-hand account of what she experienced there as a child.
Currently, Fritzshall is an active member of the community, serving as president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. Cardinal Cupich has been proactive in building and maintaining strong relationships between Catholics and Jews throughout his ministry as a priest, bishop and archbishop. As the US Jewish community experienced near-historic levels of anti-Semitism in 2018, Cardinal Cupich hosted meetings with Chicago-based Jewish organizations, issued statements against antisemitism and and spoke at events honoring victims of terrorist attacks and called for unity.
From Archdiocese of Chicago
“Tomorrow will be better.”
The Holocaust in Fritzie Fritzshall’s words… “The Holocaust happened to my family and to six million people, but not to me.”
Fritzie Fritzshall did not grow up in anti-semitism—until she went to school, one day. Jewish children were told to go home. “We were not allowed to go to school any longer.”
One night during Passover, soldiers came and told her mother at gunpoint they had 15 minutes to gather clothes and what they could carry. They were relocated to the “ghetto,” until they were taken to the train stations. They were locked in, not knowing where they were going. Fear set in.
On that trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau, most people died in the compartment, including Fritzshall’s grandfather.
Not quite 13 years old, Fritzshall was separated from her mother. “When I asked when I would see my mother, they pointed to the smoke,” she recounted. “This has been a heavy burden to carry.”
Among the thousands of shaved, skinny, dirty women, Fritzshall saw her mother’s youngest sister, Bella. “She put her arms around me every single night. She would whisper, ‘Tomorrow will be better,’” said Fritzshall. “She’s the one who helped me survive Auschwitz.” Her Aunt Bella would be taken away one day, never to be seen again.
The youngest of 600 women doing slave labor in a factory, there was hardly any food, hardly any rest. Fritzshall recalled 599 women would line up for a little piece of bread. “I would extend my hand and I would get a little crumb from these women,” she said. “In turn, I promised to be their messenger, if I survived. I would tell their story.”
After liberation, Fritzie returned home looking for her family, where she reconnected with her father, who had come to the US before the war began. She “couldn’t and wouldn’t” associate with any other survivors for many years.
…Until she became a grandmother. “My son said he needed to know and he his children would need to know. This is when I became a survivor,” she shared. “I had a promise that I needed to keep. But the rest is up to you—humanity—to learn from our past, so that this does not happen to anyone ever again.”
From a video of Fritzie Fritzshall at Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center