Rochelle Sutin, a Holocaust survivor whose fight against the Nazis during World War II became the stuff of legend, died in a St. Louis Park nursing home Sunday.
Sutin, 86, had recently had a stroke, said her daughter, Cecilia Dobrin.
"She was a hero," Dobrin said of her mother, whose life was captured in a book and a play and told numerous times through speeches and articles about her and her husband, Jack Sutin. "She lived her entire life with great courage. She will be greatly missed by everyone who knew her and loved her. But her spirit will live forever in our hearts and minds. "
Rochelle Sutin was born and raised in the town of Stolpce in pre-war Poland, in a part of Eastern Europe that is now part of Belarus.
At the age of 16, after being captured by the invading Nazi forces and seeing dozens of relatives killed, she escaped into the woods to join the resistance movement in the area.
In the Polish woods she met Jack Sutin. The two spent years fighting the Nazis and caring for one another despite the deprivation, terror and constant threat of death.
"We were in love for 68 years," Jack Sutin said Sunday night. "She was a wonderful woman. When I was in the underground I was very sick and she took care of me. I am alive today because of her."
The couple married on Dec. 31, 1942, in an underground bunker in the middle of the war.
After the war, the couple were taken to a displaced persons camp in Germany, living there before migrating to the United States, where they joined an uncle of Rochelle Sutin's in St. Paul in 1949.
The couple started an import business a few years later, Rochelle, Inc. They ran it for a number of years, into the 1970s with Rochelle Sutin serving as vice president.
Cecilia Sutin said the company was very successful, having as clients a number of Fortune 500 companies.
Cecilia Dobrin said the difficulties her mother endured growing up gave her a greater appreciation for family and the successes of her life.
"She knew how easily it could be taken away," Dobrin said. "But she was not bitter. She [and my father] knew that the best revenge was to be happy and have a family."
The Sutins were forthright in sharing their life stories with their two children. In fact, Cecilia, now 63, was born in the displaced persons camp.
"It was a natural thing," Dobrin said. "Like any parent would tell their child about their history."
In 1995, the Sutin story went public. The couple's son, Larry, published a book about their exploits. "Jack and Rochelle: A Holocaust Story of Love and Resistance" gained international acclaim.
Rochelle Sutin is survived by her husband, Jack, of St. Louis Park; two children, Cecilia of Minnetonka and Larry of Edina; three grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services will be held at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Adath Jeshurun Congregation in Minnetonka. Burial will follow at Adath Yeshurun cemetery in Edina.
Heron Marquez • 952-707-9994