She was a small woman, not reaching 5 feet.
But Gertrude “Trudy” Rappaport lived a life that could only be described as huge: more than a century in which she would survive multiple concentration camps and ghettos — 10, she said — and sail to the United States to build a new life in Minneapolis.
Tough and caring, Rappaport devoted herself to raising her three children. She had a close circle of Jewish friends who knew she was a Holocaust survivor, said her son, Irvin Rappaport, a retired therapist in Minneapolis.
Rappaport died Aug. 31 at Shalom Home in St. Louis Park at the age of 101.
She was born Gertrude Gumberich on Feb. 21, 1918 in Koblenz, Germany. She was raised in Stuttgart, where her family moved when she was an infant, Irvin said.
Around 1933, Rappaport realized her world was changing, Irvin said: A good friend who was not Jewish told her they could no longer be friends because her father’s job at a radio station would be threatened if authorities discovered his daughter had a Jewish friend.
She was about 20 when she witnessed the smoldering ruins of her synagogue following Krystallnacht. Her parents managed to flee to Shanghai shortly before the borders closed, but Rappaport did not make it out. She spent three and half years moving through various ghettos and concentration camps. Her sister Charlotte was killed in Auschwitz.
Edina author and artist Susan Weinberg interviewed Rappaport about her experiences in 2012 for her book “We Spoke Jewish.”
“It really was difficult for her to talk about, so you could feel the emotion,” Weinberg said.
Rappaport told Irvin and Weinberg about working in a sugar factory during the war, and how they were instructed to get their blankets and wait in line for delousing. Then, with no explanation, it was called off. She said she later learned they had been lined up to be killed.
She also recalled being sick in a hospital where a nurse warned her to get out because inspectors were coming the next day and would take sick people away. Rappaport fled.
“Those things happened all the time,” she told Weinberg. “Where I was that close to [dying] or to getting killed, but I survived.”
Once, a window in one of the barracks fell out and shattered on her, badly cutting her face, her son said. She had a scar above her lip the rest of her life.
Near the end of the war, she was part of a group forced to march back to Germany, Irvin recalled. They took shelter in a barn where many of them were dying of typhus. Russian soldiers liberated them, but she fell ill with typhus and was taken to a Russian field unit where she lay delirious for about two weeks, her son said.
She made way her way back to Stuttgart, where she met he future husband, Abe, in a displaced-persons camp. The couple later took a boat to New York, where Rappaport’s uncle lived.
How his parents landed in Minneapolis, Irvin said, isn’t clear. He said he knows only that Abe was a furrier interested in colder climates. They settled in north Minneapolis, the Jewish neighborhood at the time, Weinberg said. Rappaport’s parents eventually joined them there.
Abe took a job with a fur company called Rockler, and began designing and making fur items such as mittens, booties and hats from fur coats. He never had a storefront but sewed and sold out of his garage, Irvin said. They later moved to St. Louis Park.
Rappaport always credited pure chance for her survival, Irvin said. He said his mother had three things going for her: youth, health and “phenomenal luck.”
In her old age, Rappaport enjoyed hitting the casino and kept going up to a year and half before she died.
Rappaport was preceded in death by her husband. In addition to her son, survivors include two daughters, Julie Lindgren (Craig) of Eden Prairie and Rose “Linda” Eisenzimmer (Dennis) of Apple Valley and several grandchildren and great-grand children.
Services have been held.