Fritzie Fritzshall, the president of the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center and a Holocaust survivor, has died at 91, the museum announced on Sunday.
“Fritzie Fritzshall devoted her life to combatting hatred and prejudice, inspiring people to become Upstanders instead of bystanders, and speaking out to make our world a better place,” the museum stated in a press release.
At age 13, Fritzshall and her family were arrested at gunpoint and sent to Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, where she was separated from her mother and brothers, never seeing them again. Assigned to a female labor camp for two years, Fritzshall promised her fellow prisoners that if she survived, she would tell their story, along with the 1 million others who died at Auschwitz and 11 million in total who died in the holocaust. Eventually, Fritzshall escaped into a forest during a death march, was liberated by the Russian Army, and reunited with her father in America.
In 1990, Illinois became the first state in the country to require the teaching of the Holocaust in all public elementary and high schools, thanks to the work of Fritzie and other Holocaust survivors, which helped convince Governor James Thompson to sign the first Holocaust Education Mandate into law.
“I want to encourage teacher training and student learning about man’s continued inhumanity to man,” Fritzie said, according to a museum press release.
The Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center in Skokie opened in 2009 and is the third-largest Holocaust museum in the world. Fritzie served as its president since 2010.
“Fritzie was the heart and soul of our Museum,” said Susan Abrams, CEO of Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. “She played an important role in the Museum transforming from regional player to global leader, sharing her story of survival and its lessons through cutting edge technology including interactive holograms and virtual reality film. I regularly watched in awe as Fritzie mesmerized audiences with her story and its lessons. All who were touched by her will never forget. She was an inspiration to me and to so many others.”
In 2020, Fritzie was named the “Everyday Extraordinary” Global Citizenship Hero as part of the Red Cross of Illinois 2020 Red Cross Class of Heroes. Read more of Fritzie’s inspiring story and watch the video.