Holocaust survivor and educator Fritzi Zbik died on April 20 at the age of 99.
Her friends and family members remember her as a devoted homemaker and matriarch who loved to cook and garden.
“She was just such a loving, loving woman. She didn’t care about the excesses in life,” daughter Hanna Zbik said. “Her family always came No. 1.”
The Northeast Philadelphia resident was born in Rona de Sus, Romania in 1921. She was the 10th of Malka and Avraham Yisrael Jeger’s 12 children. According to a statement from her family, she had a religious upbringing. Her parents owned a kosher stove that their neighbors would use to bake matzah during Passover.
When war broke out in Europe, she and her sister Edith Jeger worked in a restaurant for one of their cousins in Hungary. They were confined to the Budapest Ghetto and later forced to march north across the Danube River. They were then put on cattle cars and shipped to Kaufering, a subcamp of Dachau. Many did not survive the journey, and Zbik’s sister became extremely ill.
In Kaufering, she met Benjamin Zbik, a widower whose wife and daughter had been killed in Auschwitz. He worked in the kitchens, got her a job serving food and helped the sisters survive.
In their statement, her family said the three prisoners became friends with 13 other Jewish prisoners with whom they eventually plotted an escape. She became especially close with one of the other young women, Susan Pereszlenyi.
In 1945, the group began to notice the Nazi guards dressing in civilian clothes due to fear of United States soldiers. Benjamin Zbik found out they had started executing prisoners to try to cover their tracks, and the group decided to flee in late April. A few days later, on May 1, they found U.S. soldiers and knew they were liberated.
Fritzi and Benjamin Zbik were married shortly after the war and had their only child in a displaced persons camp. They set about trying to find lost family members, and Fritzi Zbik learned that her parents and two of her brothers had been killed, but several other siblings were alive and had moved to Israel, Canada or the United States.
The Zbiks immigrated to the U.S. through Detroit in 1949 and then moved to Philadelphia. The family lived on Bainbridge Street and owned a stable that rented horses and wagons to merchants. When automobiles became widely used, Benjamin Zbik worked at a butcher shop. Edith Jeger married Benjamin Zbik’s brother, Ruben, and the family members lived close to each other.
As a child, Hanna Zbik listened to her parents tell stories about what they experienced during the war.
“I asked myself, ‘Could I have done that if I had lived through that?’ The answer is no, and it just magnifies my thoughts as to how strong my mother really was,” she said.
Zbik’s family said several of the other 16 Jewish prisoners who escaped from Kaufering together ended up settling in the Philadelphia area and raising families. A few years after the Zbiks moved to Philadelphia, Pereszlenyi also immigrated here. When she found her friend’s address and paid her a surprise visit,
The two women and their families were inseparable, and they spent years going shopping, cooking and celebrating Jewish holidays together. Zbik’s daughter and grandchildren called her friend “tante,” the Yiddish word
“We used to get together, most of the time on Saturday evenings when Shabbos went out. She was very, very friendly to everybody,” Pereszlenyi said.
Zbik lived to have grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was a member of the New Americans Association and the Holocaust Survivors Association and spoke about her experiences during the Holocaust at many synagogues, schools and community centers. According to her family, she was passionate about giving tzedakah and supported charities including Israel Bonds, Jewish National Fund and the Firefighters Association.
“She was pure of heart, she was naturally good and we loved her so much,” her family said in their statement. “She didn’t have any hate in her heart. This is a woman who lost her parents and her brothers. She just moved forward, and she lived.”