Eta Chait Wrobel
Eta Wrobel, who lived in Fort Lee, NJ, for more than a decade toward the end of her life, was the commander of a partisan group in Lukow, Poland, wife to Henry, mother of four (Hal, Shain, Anna, and Liza), and grandmother of 11. She died on Memorial Day 2008, soon after her twin great-grandchildren were born. Her life was filled with the love of giving and of fighting for truth, justice, and the Jewish people. "We fought to survive," she would say. "We fought so that some of us would get out of there and make new families, to spit in the Nazi’s eyes. Our babies are our revenge."
Eta grew up with nine siblings — and she was the sole survivor of her family. She escaped from a Nazi prison in Lublin and from two deportations. She smuggled guns she’d stolen from Germans in Lodz to her hometown, and fled to the woods, where the Jewish partisans made her their commander.
Determined to make a difference, she became the mayor of Lukow right after the war, and then fled the Communists. Settled in Brooklyn, she was a grocery lady extraordinaire in East New York, where she would canvass her neighbors for money for the American Cancer Society while still wearing her store apron.
When her husband became a successful real estate developer on Staten Island, the family moved to the Bronx, to a new grocery store and neighborhood, where Eta began to develop the Holocaust survivors’ division of Hadassah. In time, the family moved to Kew Gardens, where Eta used her home to rally survivors to support Yad Vashem, Hadassah, the Rivkah Laufer Bikur Cholim Society, and Israel Bonds. One of her favorite charities was Akim, an Israeli organization that cares for developmentally disabled children. Eta was also an active and vocal member of the National Council of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.
In the last year of her life, she was honored by YIVO and the National Yiddish Theatre/Folksbiene for her efforts to keep the Yiddish language alive. Her legacy is clearly stated in her memoirs, written when she was 90. The book is called My Life, My Way, and Eta did it her way until the very end.
Originally appeared on May 30, 2008 in the New Jersey Jewish Standard.