When they first moved to Denver, Fanny and Zesa Starr lived on Denver’s legendary Westside, south of Sloan’s Lake.
Born in Poland, Zesa and Fanny, both Holocaust survivors, lived in east Denver when I first met them years later. That’s when they both came to Dr. Victoria McCabe’s classes at Regis University and shared the stories of their lives.
Fannie told us of her losing siblings and other family members in the death camps. In 1939, when the Nazis took over Poland, they came to her home, shot the family dog, and told them to pack a few things. They were then sent to the Lodz ghetto in Poland.
Dr. McCabe recently shared a survey which showed that over 70% of youngsters in America had never heard of the word “Auschwitz.” If they did not know the name of this notorious death camp, we can assume that they know little or nothing of the Holocaust of World War II.
Fanny once shared with me that she was afraid people would forget what happened to her and her people in the death camps. She survived both Auschwitz and Bergen Belsen when it was finally liberated.
That concern pushed her to talk to anyone who would listen to her tell her stories. She spoke to grade, middle, and high school students. She spoke often to college students, especially at Regis.
Two years ago, I heard Fanny speak to over 800 people at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley. What amazed me about that evening was the absolute silence and respect which the audience showed Fannie as she spoke.
She spoke quietly but forcefully, giving up matter-of-fact incidents. Through her stories, she held the audience in the palm of her hand. The student sitting next to me at the speech went up with me to meet Fanny after she spoke. She told Fanny that she would never forget her and her speech. Fanny seemed very pleased with the young lady’s reaction and thanked her and asked her to tell her story.
Fanny fought to her last breath in her 98th year to make sure people would not forget her story and the inhumanity which a government forced upon her and her family. Earlier this year, with her enthusiastic support, the legislature passed a bill which required the Holocaust be a subject in the local school curricula. This legislation assured her in a small way that people would not forget.
I am very pleased that Helen Starr, Fanny’s daughter, will serve on the oversight committee to make sure Holocaust studies will find a meaningful place in school curricula. Helen will carry on her mother’s legacy. We will not forget.
When I think of Fanny I recall the lines from Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” when Juliet says of Romeo’s death: “And when he shall die, take him and cut him out in little stars. And he shall make the face of heaven so fine That all the world will be in love with night And pay no worship to the garish sun.”
Fanny was our great shining STAR and we will never forget her, her witness, and her stories. She was a wonderful role model. We will miss her many moments of glad grace. I was so blessed in life to count her as a friend.
Her daughters, Helen and Hilda, have set up a GoFundMe page which will help carry on Fanny’s legacy. If you would like to contribute, please click here.
The Honorable Dennis Gallagher is a former city auditor, city councilman, state senator and state representative. He’ll be sharing thoughts and stories from North Denver’s past and future in his reoccuring column in The Denver North Star.