As the generation of Holocaust survivors ages, we are bereft of heroes who withstood the worst time in our collective Jewish history and lived to model the character, strength, and emunah that forged the renewal of our Jewish nation. This past week, Klal Yisrael once again found itself at a loss as we mourn the petirah of an ishah chashuvah, Fran Laufer, a’h, who personified all of the ideals of an eishes chayil both in the personal and public arenas.
Frimit (Frimciu) Fuchsbrumer was born in Chrzanow, Poland, 96 years ago. She had an idyllic childhood, enjoying a close, loving relationship with her beloved parents, Reb Shlomo and Zlata (Lotta), her brother Benek and sister Golda (Goldzia), and aunts, uncles, and cousins. The family was very comfortable, successful in business, and devout in their religious observance. This utopian existence abruptly crashed in 1940 when Chrzanow was incorporated into the Third Reich and was cut off from Krakow. The Nazis instituted laws that drastically changed everything. The Germans took over the family business and did not allow her parents to work there, but they recognized Fran’s business acumen and had her work the business while turning over the revenue to the Reich. In 1943, her parents and aunts and uncles were rounded up and taken to the waiting trains, never to be heard from again. At the young age of 17, Fran was left with the awesome responsibility of caring for her 15-year-old brother and ten-year-old sister, and not long after that, she lost them, too, in an aktion.
After that aktion, Fran was sent on a train and began her journeys through Poland to different labor camps. She worked hard and survived, though barely. Upon her liberation in Bergen-Belsen she was emaciated and sick with typhus. She was literally at death’s door but managed to stay alive. And there she met her knight in shining armor, Shimon Laufer, a fellow survivor who fell in love with her and promised to be not just her husband, but her father, mother, sister, and brother.
Shimon and Fran married on October 15, 1945, the first wedding after the liberation of Bergen-Belsen. They lived in Celle, Germany, until they were able to immigrate to the United States in April 1947. They started their American life in Brownsville, New York. Both Fran and Shimon worked hard in whatever jobs they could find, and eventually their entrepreneurial spirit propelled them towards the American dream. Despite her great fears that her illnesses during her incarceration would not allow her to have children, Fran and Shimon were blessed with three daughters, Lottie (Morgenstern), Suzie (Rozner), and Gayle (Yashar).
Shimon and Fran were blessed with happiness and prosperity in America, and enjoyed a wonderful life. They always looked to help those less fortunate, and to build yeshivot, shuls, and communities. Hashem rewarded them for their chesed and they continued to prosper. They bought their first home in Hillcrest and worked together with Rabbi Sholom B. Kowalsky to grow the community. Fran became president of the Sisterhood, and Shimon the president of the Young Israel, and together they spearheaded and accomplished the building campaign for the new building of the Young Israel. This dynamic couple was nicknamed Mr. and Mrs. Young Israel of Hillcrest for their invaluable contribution to the shul and to the community.
Fran continued to move forward, and attended the NY School of Interior Design, where she excelled. Her penchant for beautiful things led her to open The Fran Laufer Collection at 200 Lexington Avenue in Manhattan, which was represented in design centers across the USA. It showcased handpicked, beautiful objets d’art, furniture, and lighting from all over the world. Once again, her acute business acumen and impeccable taste led her to success as she was awarded the International Society of Interior Designers Distinguished Service Award in recognition of her dedication to the trade.
As Fran was always moving and forging ahead, she decided to move on to Great Neck, New York, where there was another Jewish community to build. They became active in the shul and involved with Israel Bonds, where they were selected to host a dinner in their home for Yitzchak Rabin and raised substantial funds for this important cause. From Great Neck, the Laufers moved to New York City, fulfilling the ultimate American dream, living in the Upper East Side’s Trump Plaza, where they joined the Fifth Avenue Synagogue and became involved with the synagogue’s Sisterhood and Women’s Club. It was not long before Fran became the president of the Women’s Club. The Laufers became very close friends of the synagogue’s Rabbi Dr. Sol Roth and Cantor Josef Malovany.
In addition to building and growing communities, in 1965 Fran founded the famous Rivkah Laufer Bikur Cholim in memory of her beloved cousin. This wonderful organization is devoted to dispatching volunteers to hospitals to visit the sick and needy, offering social assistance, advice and companionship, kosher meals, and facilities to religiously observant people who could not travel long distances to visit ill family members. All of this required money, so Fran spearheaded an annual fundraiser to provide this medical and social assistance to those who could not afford it. That fundraiser grew from a garden party in her backyard to an annual event hosting more than 600 women at Terrace on the Park in Flushing. This organization has no administrative overhead as all personnel are volunteers, and for over 50 years, 100% of the proceeds have been allocated to this important tzedakah.
On the day that her parents were put on the train and taken from her forever, someone pressed a piece of fabric into her hand. It was torn from her mother’s dress and on it she had written in her own blood, “Hide and live!” Fran vowed to obey her mother’s wishes, and she fulfilled this vow in every sense of the word. She lived, and she built Jewish communities, endowed Jewish synagogues—the Young Israel of Hillcrest, Young Israel of Deerfield Beach, Shaar Shimon of Bobov, the Rema’s shul in Krakow, the Great Synagogue in Jerusalem—and made it her life’s mission to keep the lessons of the Holocaust alive in the world’s collective memory. She spoke to thousands of audiences, both adult and children, who are equally captivated to hear her story of survival and triumph. She gave testimony to Spielberg and Yale University and joined the legions of survivors whose collective testimony will ensure the mantra of “Never Again.” Fran narrated her personal story on a fascinating video for Torah Café, which is often screened on the Public Broadcasting System. Fran wrote her memoirs in a book she titled A Vow Fulfilled, to honor her dear mother’s directive to her to “hide and live.” Fran defined living by dedicating her life to helping and building Klal Yisrael.
Fran and Shimon Laufer were zoche to raise three daughters, nine grandchildren, and 35 great-grandchildren, all yeshiva students and graduates, shomrei Torah u’mitzvot. True Yiddishe nachas!
On August 22, 2019, Fran was reunited with her parents, brother, sister, and relatives for whom she yearned and dreamed of since they were taken from her during the war. Her beloved Shimon was undoubtedly waiting for her at the gates of Shamayim to welcome her to her rightful place in the Olam HaEmet. There she will surely receive her ultimate most-deserved reward for all of the great work and accomplishments that she gifted the world in her lifetime.
Tehei nishmatah tzerurah b’tzror ha’chaim.