Each day, Fanny Rubinstein thanked God for her long life, believing she had been given the years that were taken from her father, who was killed during the Holocaust.
Despite that dark time, Fanny and her husband, Roman Rubinstein — whom she met in a displaced persons camp — raised a family in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park with grace and gratitude, family members said.
“What they went through was unimaginable,” said Rabbi Avraham Ettedgui, of Sharei Chesed Congregation in Minnetonka. “I always was awed by their achievement — not only being able to start a new life, but being such kind people, such generous people.”
Almost a year after being diagnosed with leukemia, Rubinstein died June 5 in her St. Louis Park home. She was 89.
Born in 1925 in Warsaw, Poland, Rubinstein was 17 years old when the Nazis invaded. Her father, Jacob Greenburg, a master plumber, saw what was coming and brought his wife, Toba, and their family across the border to Russia. In 1942, when the Nazis came to that small town, the family hid in an abandoned farmhouse, said Edward Rubinstein, Fanny Rubinstein’s son. Jacob returned to the town to deflect any suspicion.
“When he was arrested, he insisted he had no other family,” Edward Rubinstein said. “He sacrificed his own life to save the life of his family.”
In the years following her father’s death, Fanny Rubinstein blended in, thanks to her ear for languages — she spoke Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish and English fluently, Edward said — and her blonde, blue-eyed looks.
Living in a displaced persons camp in Germany after the war, Fanny met Roman Rubinstein, the sole survivor of a family that had once numbered nearly 200.
“He was a strong individual, alone in the world,” said daughter Esther Rubinstein. “She had lost her father, who was her world. He needed love, and she needed security, so it worked out.”
They married in 1949 and lived in Germany for three years before moving to north Minneapolis in 1952. They raised two children in the St. Louis Park split-level they owned for 40 years. In earrings that always matched her necklaces, Fanny Rubinstein cooked three meals a day, kept an immaculate, strictly kosher home and dedicated herself to Roman.
But despite Roman’s strict, conservative nature, Fanny persuaded him to allow 17-year-old Esther to live in Israel for a year.
“The only time she could do battle with him was on behalf of my brother or myself,” Esther said. “She was not a tall woman. She was not a big woman.
“But when she needed to, she could fill up a room.”
Fanny persuaded Roman, a real estate investor, to enjoy Florida. For more than two months a year, they’d stay in a North Miami Beach hotel with friends, many of whom were fellow Holocaust survivors. She also signed the couple up for dance lessons.
“She was the one who taught him how to live,” said Rabbi Ettedgui, who knew the couple for decades.
They celebrated the birth of their grandson, David, in 1983. “He was the living testimony that life will continue, that Hitler failed,” Ettedgui said in his eulogy. “Fanny qvelled [Yiddish] at every occasion, and justifiably so, for her handsome, kind and successful grandson.”
Roman died in 2008, just a month before the couple’s 60th anniversary.