Lillian Judd, 92, dedicated her life to recalling the Holocaust

Lillian Judd endured the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, where her father, mother and two sisters were killed and she was beaten nearly to death. But decades later, in the comfort of her homes in California, she set aside anger and dedicated her life to recalling the Holocaust and espousing kindness.

“She was one of the finest human beings I’ve ever known,” Rabbi George Gittleman said Monday at a funeral service for Judd at Santa Rosa’s Congregation Beth Ami.

“I feel a profound sense of loss,” Gittleman said. “Lillian touched so many people it feels like there’s a hole in the heart of the Jewish community.”

More than 200 people attended the funeral for Judd, 92, who died Monday at her Sebastopol home of complications from a stroke.

Judd was a teenager when the German army invaded her Czechoslovakian homeland in 1938, and 21 when she and her family and the other Jews in the Radvanka area were herded onto cattle cars and shipped to Auschwitz, the extermination camp where at least 1.1 million prisoners died.

Her father attempted to retrieve his prayer book and prayer shawl from the train and was beaten to death by a soldier using a rifle butt, then dragged away. Her mother and two sisters were put in one line, and Judd never saw them again.

She and her sister, Herczi, were put in another line, survived about a year at Auschwitz and then a subsequent death march in 1945, as the Nazis tried to hide evidence of their atrocities from the advancing Soviet army.

In 1949, Judd and her late husband, Emil, also a concentration camp survivor, moved to Los Angeles to join her brother, Leonard, who had emigrated to the United States before Hitler took over Czechoslovakia. The couple ran a restaurant and retired to Santa Rosa in 1996.

Lillian Judd, a petite, gray-haired grandmother, was a “small but mighty” woman, said Rick Concoff, a Jewish educator and longtime friend. Her prison number, A-10946, was tattooed onto her forearm with a fountain pen that scraped below her skin, he said.

“This is what hate does,” Judd said in a 2003 interview.

Gittleman, who got to know Judd over a series of mushroom omelet breakfasts at her house, said he once asked why she wasn’t bitter and angry for the brutality she’d endured. “She realized she had to make a change inside or die,” the Congregation Shomrei Torah rabbi said. “And she did.”

Judd’s transformation occurred in the late 1970s, when she began writing down the dreams she had of Auschwitz, Concoff said in an interview. She determined she had an obligation to share her experience with her own children and with “all kinds of children,” he ?said.

Judd made countless appearances - her family says hundreds of them - at schools throughout Sonoma County, describing the Holocaust to rapt students.

Carol Swanson, a Forestville Elementary School teacher and Beth Ami member, said the students would fall silent and “their eyes got big trying to imagine what she endured.”

Judd and her son, Dennis Judd of Sebastopol, co-authored her autobiographical book, “From Nightmare To Freedom: Healing After The Holocaust,” published in 2011.

It’s important to teach people about the homicide of 6 million Jews, Dennis Judd said, but “also to let go of your anger and hatred.”

Anna Judd, his wife, said that Lillian Judd’s life offers valuable perspective. “When I compare my troubles to what she went through, my troubles would fade away,” she said. “She chooses life, she chooses joy, she praises God and she loves life.”

Their son, Daniel Judd, who researched Lillian’s life, said she grew up in a 700-square-foot house with no running water or bathroom. The house, along with her father’s job as a butcher, was lost when the Nazis evicted the people of Radvanka and forced them into an outdoor brick factory, where they lived briefly before being sent to Auschwitz.

On arrival in the U.S., Daniel said, his grandmother “felt free as a bird. She was crying and laughing at the same time.”

Daniel noted that he “would probably have a lot more uncles and cousins” if not for the Holocaust.

Rabbi Mendel Wolvovsky of the Chabad Jewish Center said Judd was a “beautiful, strong presence” in the community. “She always wanted to sing, always wanted to dance,” he said, even when illness had confined her to a wheelchair.

The sanctuary at Beth Ami was unadorned except for two floral bouquets placed in front of Judd’s unvarnished wooden casket, marked by a six-pointed Jewish star. She was buried at Santa Rosa Memorial Park following the funeral service.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy ?Kovner at 521-5457 or guy.kovner? On Twitter ?@guykovner.

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