Judy Meisel was 15 when she was beaten, tortured and forced to work in the Stutthof concentration camp in 1944.
Later that year, she and her mother were led to the gas chamber. She was nearly inside the building when a guard ordered Meisel to go back to the barracks. That was the last time she saw her mother.
That experience and other atrocities she saw and experienced propelled her to become a civil rights activist and educator in the United States, where she eventually settled after surviving the Holocaust.
Meisel, who lived in St. Louis Park, died Nov. 3. She was 91.
She entered the global spotlight in 2017 when German authorities asked her to testify against a Nazi guard whom she recognized.
Meisel was unable to travel, so Ben Cohen, her grandson, spoke at the trials in Germany on behalf of Meisel and all the survivors who could not be there. Cohen, who lives in Brooklyn, tells his grandmother's story with the Judy Project.
"She was a loving grandmother, who shared so much joy with me my whole life. But to be able to spend the past four years pursuing justice with her was something that I think did give me another insight into who she was and how she viewed the world," Cohen said.
Born in Lithuania in 1929, Meisel was the youngest of three siblings. When Germany invaded Lithuania in 1941, the Nazis confined Meisel and her mother, sister and brother to a ghetto. In 1944, Meisel, her sister, Rachel, and their mother were sent to the Stutthof concentration camp in a Nazi-occupied territory that is now Poland. They were separated from their brother, Abe, who was sent to Dachau concentration camp.
Meisel and her sister managed to escape the Nazis in January 1945 during a "death march," as the Russian army advanced on the Stutthof camp. They were liberated in Denmark that May, before they traveled to Canada and immigrated to America.
Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, called Meisel the soul of memory for the camp.
"I find these words from Judith inspirational: 'Racism and bigotry, it's still happening all over the world and we have to constantly work at it to see that this does not happen here or anywhere. We cannot afford to say, "What can I do, I'm only one person." One person can do a lot,' " he said.
Cohen said his grandmother wouldn't have called herself a part of the resistance, but she lived that way.
"But what she did used to say is that just to take one more breath was to fight back. I think she lived that way to the very end, she cherished every breath that she took," Cohen said.
Meisel continued to fight back not long after arriving in America. Living in Philadelphia, she became involved in the civil rights movement. She was watching the news one night when she saw a white mob terrorizing a Black family who had just moved to nearby Folcroft. It reminded Meisel of her own experience, said Cohen.
"She drove to the town over and delivered cookies to the Baker family," Cohen said. That became a lifelong friendship, and their son attended her funeral on Friday.
Meisel is survived by her three children, Mina Cohen of Mendocino, Calif., Michael Cohen of St. Louis Park and Debby Tucker of Potomac, Md., as well as six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.