Ten years ago, at age 88, Sabina Szwarc Zimering traveled to her native Poland with her two daughters. They visited places connected with Zimering's Holocaust experiences: the one-room apartment her family was forced to share with four others, a wooded area where Jews were rounded up and shot, and Treblinka, the former extermination camp in Nazi-occupied Poland.
One night in their hotel room, Zimering said, "This was a good day."
Stunned, daughter Rose Zimering, asked how she could say that after seeing those reminders of terrible losses.
" She replied, 'I always just wanted to keep moving forward,' " said Rose, of Boston, in a eulogy. "And in fact, she continually lived with optimism, hope and forgiveness."
Sabina Zimering died in her sleep on Sept. 6 at her home in St. Louis Park. She was 98.
Throughout her life, Zimering did keep moving forward, surviving Holocaust terrors, close calls and strokes of luck, going on to become a doctor and, in her 70s, a memoirist who traveled the country speaking about the Holocaust.
"It's kind of amazing — she lived to almost 99 and when she was 16 she didn't know if she'd live another day," said her other daughter, Bonnie Bottoms of Minnetonka. "She came out of it with a deep appreciation of the smallest blessings."
Zimering was born in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland. As teenagers during the Holocaust, she and her sister were given false identification papers by friends who risked their own lives to help them. The sisters boarded a train headed for Switzerland but got scared and disembarked in Munich. They worked there for a while until another scare sent them to Bavaria, where they worked in a ritzy hotel frequented by high-ranking Gestapo officers.
"They basically survived under the noses of the top military brass," said Zimering's son, Mark, of Basking Ridge, N.J.
"She had an incredible intuition and interpersonal emotional intelligence, which I think is one of the reasons she survived the war," Bottoms said. "She always could see who a person really, really was."
After the war, Zimering attended medical school in Munich, where she met Ruben Zimering, her husband of 62 years until his death in 2012. The couple immigrated to Minnesota in 1949. Zimering began her medical career when only about 6% of doctors were women.
The couple settled in St. Louis Park and had three children. Zimering worked as an ophthalmologist for 42 years, working at the University of Minnesota Health Services before going into private practice. She loved to cook, and often threw many-course dinner parties for a big group of intellectual friends.
"She was very driven and motivated and to both work full time and raise a family of driven children — we're all kind of high achievers in our own ways," Mark said.
After retiring at 75, Zimering still kept moving forward. She wrote a book, "Hiding in the Open: A Holocaust Memoir" about surviving in Nazi-occupied Europe. It was adapted as a play, performed at the History Theatre in St. Paul and by theater groups and high schools around the country. Zimering herself traveled around the country speaking at schools, churches and other organizations.
Zimering was always willing to talk about the past, Bottoms said.
"How did she emerge from one of the darkest episodes of human cruelty and manage to be filled with light and love?" Bottoms said. "She had an indomitable spirit."
In addition to her three children, Zimering is survived by six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. Services have been held.
Katy Read • 612-673-4583