As a survivor of the Holocaust, Dora Zaidenweber felt a responsibility and an obligation to share her story.
Over many decades, she told thousands about finding the hope to endure Auschwitz's horrors — giving her testimony across the Midwest at schools and museums, over Zoom and, just six months before she died on Sept. 21, before Minnesota legislators at the State Capitol.
"Mass murders can happen, and people have to understand to learn to live with each other," Zaidenweber, who was 99, told lawmakers in March. "It is only through understanding and education that they know who their neighbors are, who the people they are living with and learn to live with."
Ultimately, state lawmakers passed an education bill that included requiring Minnesota students to learn about the Holocaust and other genocides starting in 2026.
"Dora was a force that winter day, there's no doubt in my and my JCRC colleagues' minds that her words, her presence, and her voice changed minds in that packed Capitol hearing room," said Laura Zelle, director of Holocaust education for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. "I will remember Dora not only for the darkness she endured, but for the light she brought into the world, ensuring that the lessons of history will guide us toward a more compassionate and just future."
Zaidenweber was born in Radom, Poland. Along with her immediate family and her future husband, Jules, she survived being forced into a Polish ghetto and sent to Nazi forced labor and death camps. Her extended family did not survive, and her mother died just after the war. In 1950, Jules, Dora, her father and her brother David all immigrated to the United States and settled in Minneapolis.
Two years after coming to America, despite having her high school education cut short by the war, she earned a master's degree in economics from the University of Minnesota.
For several years, Zaidenweber, who worked as an accountant and raised two children, didn't talk much about what she experienced during the war, said her grandson Jonah Krischer. When her eldest was in high school, however, she started sharing her story.
"Once she started speaking, she never stopped," he said.
Zaidenweber's indomitable spirit is on display in a video captured in 1982, as she speaks to a teacher's workshop at the University of Wisconsin, River Falls. The filmed testimony is now part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's collection.
"When you're living in an Auschwitz, with the chimneys going all the time, and thousands of people — and you see from the compounds the trains coming in every day, and nobody coming out, other than this fiery smoke — it becomes a fallacy to hope that there might be a day when they will even let you out of that godforsaken place, that you might tell anybody what was going on there," she tells the room of educators.
"You know, it takes an incredible amount of fortitude to even dare to hope that you will survive."
For her family, which grew to include five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, Zaidenweber was a "warm and loving" matriarch who held them together. Krischer remembers spending every other Sunday at his grandparents' house in St. Louis Park with his brother as a kid, learning to play bridge and never missing an episode of "60 Minutes."
"She always made the same meal of chicken and noodles, and we always got a little bowl of chocolate chips for dessert," he said.
After they grew up, Zaidenweber scheduled a day for each grandchild to give her a call. Krischer's was Tuesday. "She would pick up the phone with 'Happy Tuesday!'" he said. "And if I forgot and called a day late, she would say 'Happy Tuesday on Wednesday!'"
Even as she was losing her eyesight in recent years, Zaidenweber worked with her family to translate from Yiddish into English and publish a memoir that her father, Isaia Eiger, wrote about his time at Auschwitz.
After Zaidenweber's testimony in March, as her daughter was wheeling her out of the room in her wheelchair, Zaidenweber raised her hand and asked Zelle if she could meet the governor, Zelle recalled. A few months later, Gov. Tim Walz thanked Zaidenweber personally at a JCRC event, she said.
"Dora's wish was granted," she said.
Zaidenweber is survived by her children, Rosanne Zaidenweber and Gary Zaidenweber, her five grandchildren and her five great-grandchildren. Services have been held.