Lillian Eckstein was strong, determined and fiercely independent. Her motto was, no matter what happens in life there is always a way to make things work, and she always did. Her family said she was one tough cookie, even after she contracted the coronavirus.
“That same strength is what got her through Auschwitz. That same strength is what got her through life,” said daughter, Marilyn Levi.
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The 93-year-old lived in Rego Park and Forrest Hills in Queens for nearly 60 years, but she was born in what was then Czechoslovakia.
“When she was 12 years old, the Gestapo came to their town. She was living with her parents and 14 children in a home and was taken from her home together with the family,” said Levi.
Eckstein and four of her siblings survived the war. The rest of her family perished under Nazi rule or were never heard from again. She’s seen in a video clip courtesy of the USC Shoah Foundation which was founded by Steven Speilberg to document and preserve the accounts of Holocaust survivors.
In the recording made in the mid-1990s, Eckstein didn't talk about her acts of heroism in the concentration camp. Her daughter found out about them later.
“She basically stole bread and put it between her legs of all things and took it back to the bunker and gave it to a woman. My mother basically saved her life, and years later after she came to America and my husband and I went with her to a party in New York, a woman came over and grabbed her and hugged her and said thank you for saving my life,” said Levi.
After the war Eckstein was taken by boat to the U.S. where she married another holocaust survivor, created a business in real estate and finance and had two children. She was in a rehabilitation center when she contracted the virus. She was recovering from a broken hip.
She ended up getting short of breath. Her oxygen levels were low, “and they called an ambulance and took her to the hospital, and she was put on a ventilator in the emergency room.
Unlike many other families her daughter said she was lucky enough to be able to say some final words to her mother over the phone.
“I sang her some prayers that are said on Passover. And I could tell that she heard me,” said Levi.
Eckstein is survived by her two daughters, five grandchildren and a great grandchild.