Naomi David was one of a handful of Jewish kids at Rufus King High School where, during her sophomore year in 2006, she was reading Elie Wiesel’s “Night,” the masterpiece autobiography about surviving the horrors he experienced in Nazi death camps.
“One of my classmates made a pretty insensitive comment about being hungry and not having enough food in a concentration camp,” David said. “I went to my grandma’s that night and was upset. I said, ‘I hate him.’ And she goes, ‘we never hate anyone. That’s not what we do.’”
Her grandmother Raye David asked her how she could help.
“She came to my school the next week and spoke to 120 high schoolers who had never met a Holocaust survivor who had experienced the kind of things she had experienced,” David said. “I felt very proud to be her granddaughter. I always did. But being in that moment and having someone who could teach other people through their story was a really good lesson for me.”
David, a Holocaust survivor who spent years talking to groups and communities about her experiences as a member of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center’s speakers bureau, died on Dec. 2, 2022. She was 94-years-old.
David was born in 1928 in what was then Vilna, Poland, to Zalman Joseph and Luba Szlosberg. Her father was a tailor and her mother worked in a printing shop. In 1941, Germans arrived in her town and required Jews to wear symbols of their Judaism such as the Star of David on their clothing. Her father was soon arrested and killed and she, her mother and her aunt lived in a ghetto before they were taken to several concentration camps.
“They went through the entire war together, which was a rare occurrence. They survived because they said they were sisters as opposed to a mother and a daughter and an aunt,” her son Edward David said.
On Nov. 17, 1944, they were then taken to the Bergen-Belsen camp. On April 15, 1945, the British liberated the camp. David, her mother and her aunt moved to the United States and settled in Milwaukee, where she met her husband David David and married him in 1951. The couple was married for 53 years before his death in 2004.
“The day I moved to Milwaukee, my aunt wanted to marry me off,” she said about their courtship during an interview with the Holocaust Education Resource Center six years ago. “This young man came and asked me out on a date and I went out with him … he asked my mother’s permission to marry me because he was very romantic.”
Her son recalled that he never heard his mother say that she hated someone while her granddaughter said that David could never forgive what the Nazis did.
“After my dad died, her Holocaust stories became more talked about. She went out and talked to people about it,” Edward David said. “I think my mother never got mad. She just was very principled. You knew where she stood and you knew what she believed in. She wasn’t a religious person per se. But morally and ethically, there was no one on her level.”
Music and art were very much part of David’s life. She went to the Milwaukee Rep starting in the 1950s when it was still the Fred Miller theater on Oakland Avenue, her son said. She was also a grandmother. She handed out Jelly Bellies and peanut butter cups and she was a great cook, who would always be ready to serve up a lesson with her meals, Naomi David said.
“She would always tell you that you can’t waste any food. If you had any food left on your plate, we would get a lesson about when she was a young girl and didn’t have anything to eat” she said, noting that she spoke fluent Yiddish. “Her kitchen table was a staple of my childhood.”
In addition to her son Edward, Raye David is survived by her other son Ariel and her daughter JoAnn David Kasdan.
The family gratefully thanks Joyce Bisnar, Rosie Blahnik and Lynette Hankins for the love, care and comfort they provided for the past four years. Graveside funeral service was held Dec. 6, 2022, at Second Home Cemetery, Milwaukee. North Shore Funeral Services assisted the family.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be sent to the Holocaust Education Resource Center,1360 N. Prospect Ave., Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53202. Raye was a Holocaust survivor and active speaker for HERC.