In her poem “From Plaszow to Auschwitz,” whose title calls forth from memory two of the concentration camps she survived during World War II, Lola Schuss wrote about the sense of the unknown she experienced “with a few thousand young women/tired, hungry and thirsty” as they rode through the night in a train boxcar.
Their destination turned out to be Auschwitz:
with electric wires around us,
with signals from smoking chimneys
this may be our last stop.
And while she would “never forget/the atrocities of Auschwitz,” her last stanza noted: “Miracle of miracles/I survived.”
She helped her younger sister Edith survive, too, and assisted uncounted others in four separate concentration camps. Mrs. Schuss, whose parents and other sister died in the camps, lived on for decades and wrote of her experiences in essays and poems.
Mrs. Schuss died of congestive heart failure on June 30. She was 96 and had moved to Brookline more than two decades ago to be closer to her children.
“In spite of everything that happened to her, she was always positive, she was never negative,” said her son, Jack Schuss of Newton. “She didn’t hold grudges and she was always thinking about the future.”
In Brookline and in Jersey City, where she previously lived for many years, Mrs. Schuss “was very sociable and outgoing. She was just a very loving person who made friends easily,” said her daughter, Dr. Frances Schuss of Stoneham. “She was very resilient — no bitterness.”
Mrs. Schuss “was a beautiful, beautiful human being,” said Rena Finder of Framingham.
“We are both survivors of the Holocaust, and we actually met in 1945 right after the liberation — in Linz, Austria,” Finder said. “Lola was liberated with her sister and three other girls. Two of them I knew from the Krakow Ghetto. We became each other’s family. We wanted to be normal. We wanted to start a life, and we became like sisters.”
Finder, who had survived the war while working in Oskar Schindler’s factory, added that Mrs. Schuss “was a sweetheart. She was the nicest, the most giving person you ever met.”
Mrs. Schuss was directly responsible for helping her sister Edith survive the war. “I spent 3½ years in four concentration camps — Plaszow, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and Mauthausen,” Mrs. Schuss recalled in an essay.
“My sister Edith and I were the only survivors from my entire family,” she wrote of their wartime experiences, which included living in Poland’s Krakow Ghetto. “The day I lost my parents and my youngest sister, Bella, she was only 11 years old. In this single day the Germans took 10,000 Jews from the ghetto in Krakow. Four months after this day of horror, the rest of us left in the ghetto were taken to the concentration camp in Plaszow.”
In her poem “Remembering,” Mrs. Schuss wrote about Bella, a memory “so hard to put away,/You were just 11 years old,/And beautiful too.”
Bella’s eyes were “sparkling with hope,” Mrs. Schuss wrote. “I remember those years of joy and laughter/When life was full of promises.” And then the Nazis took Bella away, she wrote:
why did you have to go
to the world of no return.
To the world of fire, smoke and ashes
Where civilization was taken by the Nazis
During the years Mrs. Schuss and Edith were in four concentration camps, they were moved multiple times, and at one point Edith said she was too sick to go on. Rather than leave her behind to die, Mrs. Schuss and another prisoner propped up Edith and yet another ill woman so the Nazis wouldn’t see how sick they were.
Auschwitz, “where evil and destruction had no limits,” was particularly excruciating, Mrs. Schuss recalled.
“The nightmare of Auschwitz with the crematorium’s heavy smoke bursting through the air was a reminder that our days were numbered,” she wrote. “This is what we were told on the first day. ‘We enter Auschwitz through the gate, but we leave Auschwitz through the chimney.’ ”
Later, when they were in the Mauthausen concentration camp, Edith fell ill with typhus, and Mrs. Schuss surreptitiously brought her food to keep her alive. Then came the day Mrs. Schuss called the “miracle in May.”
During one “gloomy night, Edith, worn out, felt that the end was near, and slowly losing faith cried out, ‘I won’t make it!’ Indeed, that was the longest night I can remember,” Mrs. Schuss wrote.
The next morning was May 5, 1945. “All of a sudden, as far as my eyes could reach, I noticed a car with an American flag, followed by other cars,” she recalled. It was “a sensational feeling,” she wrote, and added: “Finally, the free world had awakened to stop this barbaric brutality. Civilization was determined to survive!”
The oldest of three sisters, Lola Fuchs was born in Radom, Poland, and grew up in Krakow. Her father, Jacob Fuchs, worked in a family business, and her mother, the former Fradel Frimet, was a homemaker.
All of them were forced to live in the Krakow Ghetto after the Germany Army invaded Poland. Lola first met Emanuel Schuss in the Plaszow concentration camp, and they encountered each other again when the war ended and he was directing the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society’s efforts in northern Austria.
Lola and Edith sought assistance from the organization, and met with Emanuel. “And then the next day, he got word to my mother than he wanted to date her,” Jack said. Lola and Emanuel married in Austria in December 1945, and immigrated to the United States four years later.
The couple settled in Jersey City, where Emanuel was a general manager for a candy wholesaler. Mrs. Schuss, along with raising their two children, volunteered at Jewish Family & Counseling Service of Jersey City.
She was 68 when she graduated with a bachelor’s degree from what was then Jersey City State College. Studying there “honed her skills in English,” her son said, and a memoir writing class in Greater Boston years later encouraged her to compose poems and essays.
In 1996, Mrs. Schuss and her husband moved to Brookline. He died that August.
A service has been held for Mrs. Schuss, who in addition to her daughter and son leaves two granddaughters and three great-grandsons. Burial was in Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, N.Y.
“She was just the most wonderful woman — very, very vibrant, and oh so loving. She just radiated love,” said Lana Brackett, a longtime friend who is a professor of marketing at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island. “People were just naturally drawn to her because she was so joyous. You couldn’t meet her without falling in love with her.”
Mrs. Schuss “was defined by what she did for other people and for her family,” her son said. “She cared about her family, she cared about her friends — she cared about everyone.”