Edith “Suzy” Ressler, who died at 93 on July 3, was a Holocaust survivor, which, of course, is a feat unto itself.
But it was what she did with the blessing of survival that ultimately defined her life, according to her grandson, David Israeli.
Ressler left behind a successful, Philadelphia-based food business, Mrs. Ressler’s Food Products, a daughter, four grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, as well as the indelible memory of her Holocaust experience in the Auschwitz and Stutthof concentration camps. She started speaking about those experiences later in life at schools and synagogues, as well as in the media.
Ressler survived the menace of Nazi Germany only to face another one after World War II: communist Russia, which invaded and took over the native home, Transylvania, that she had returned to upon liberation.
So Ressler and her husband, Emerich, who died in 2004, “fled in the middle of the night with few possessions,” as a 2017 Exponent story explained. The couple reached the United States two years later.
But the eventual matriarch never expected to get here. She never even thought she would live past 17, Israeli said.
“She often said she was living on borrowed time,” he added. “And she certainly made the most of that time.”
Suzy and Emerich Ressler founded Mrs. Ressler’s Food Products in 1954 and built it from a small chopped liver company into a national business, with more than 50 products and 130 employees. Suzy Ressler still came into the company’s Philadelphia headquarters every day into her 90s.
Israeli, now the president of the business, learned all he needed to know from watching his grandmother.
“Business, like life, is about relationships,” he said. “That’s what she was really good at.”
Ressler valued relationships because she lost most of her family in the Holocaust, Israeli said. But no relationships were more important to her than those with her family members.
The Resslers had one daughter, Katherine, who had four children with her husband, Joseph Israeli: David and his siblings Lisa, Michael and Emily. All four married and had their own kids, transforming Ressler gatherings into full-scale family reunions.
The matriarch hosted her loved ones for Shabbat every Friday night. Every Ressler born in the U.S. remains in the area, according to Israeli, and three of Ressler’s four kids work for the business.
Just weeks before her death, on Father’s Day, Ressler sat out back and watched her great-grandchildren play.
“Later in her life, she said the best thing about starting the business has been keeping her family close,” Israeli said.
It was also later in life that, after so many decades, Ressler found the strength to start speaking about her Holocaust experience. She never liked to when she first got to the U.S., wanting to put the experience behind her and start fresh, Israeli said.
But about 15-20 years ago, Ressler “felt a sense of duty,” he added. So, she started visiting secondary schools, colleges and synagogues, including her own, Temple Beth Hillel – Beth El in Wynnewood.
Ressler spoke of riding in a train car to Auschwitz with her mother, father and brother and being separated from her father and brother upon arrival.
During their year in concentration camps, the daughter and mother would take additional work and earn tiny bits of extra food to share. Both survived and returned to Transylvania.
“Her message was not to forget,” Israeli said.
In the last 10 years, though, Ressler became even more active and adamant about sharing this message. She was seeing and hearing things, in the media and from politicians, that she never imagined seeing and hearing in the U.S., including the 2017 white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
It was during this final decade that Ressler recorded her life story with the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation, the Steven Spielberg-founded institute for preserving personal stories from the Holocaust.
“So it will stay in posterity when she’s no longer here,” Israeli said.
On July 5, Ressler was laid to rest at Haym Salomon Memorial Park in Malvern.
Ressler died peacefully in her sleep, according to her grandson. Israeli ended his eulogy saying, “Grandma Suzy, I will miss you, but I promise that I will remember.”
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