101-year-old New Yorker shows her strong survival spirit

Lee Fruchtman escaped Nazi Germany 84 years ago. The pain is still raw but her strength is still building. The Washington Heights resident just turned 101 last month. Her mind is as sharp as ever.

She was born in Munich, Germany, as Liselotte Sundheimer and her family watched in horror as Hitler rose to power.

"We went under the bed when they marched on our street, 'Heil Hitler,'" Lee said.

Lee's family was beyond fortunate to have relatives in America who were able to secure an affidavit to bring Lee over to the U.S. in 1937 when she was 17. She escaped the concentration camps but still left everything behind in Munich, not knowing if she'd ever see her parents again.

"Very sad, very sad and on the boat, I was sick for seven days, very sad," Lee said.

Her U.S. relatives were also able to get one of her sisters to the states and then eventually her parents, right as the war was breaking out. She had another sister who escaped to France. So many of her Jewish friends and family members were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.

Lee's daughter, Deborah, said her mom had to learn to live with that nightmare.

"She never looked back, she never felt 'why me,' she never pitied herself, she just soldiered on and it's very inspiring," Deborah said.

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In the U.S., Lee had many jobs. 

During the war, when her husband, Max, was fighting in Europe for the U.S. Army, Lee raised their first daughter alone. At the same time, she led a group of Jewish refugee women who made gloves to send to soldiers, as documented in a 1942 newspaper article the family saved.

Lee later worked long hours as a caterer for most of her career. She retired at the age of 89 as an employee of a kosher bakery in Washington Heights. Only needing my arm for support, Lee can easily keep her stride with any New Yorker. She said her secret is longevity is always working hard and not sleeping a lot!

With her positive outlook and now with a COVID-19 vaccine in her arm, Lee feels she has survived another battle — this pandemic.

Lee has three children, five grandchildren, six great-grandchildren, and only more happy days ahead of her.