This is Mildred she is 101 years old.
I saw Mildred standing near the corner of 78th street and Broadway talking to a workman. It seemed clear that she did not know him personally, but was having one of those New York chats as you pass a stranger on the street, smile and start talking about the weather. I thought, ah ha, this is someone who likes to talk. Mildred was using a cane and carrying a plastic store bag of some sort I stood on the corner and watched her walk towards me. She was walking very slowly, taking very small steps. As she approached me I smiled at her and sure enough, she smiled back and started a conversation with me. The first thing she said to me was when you are old you walk very slowly. That was a perfect opening for me. I asked how old are you? One hundred and one. I almost fell down. I said that I was amazed and that she is an inspiration. She then asked me how old am I. I told her 73 and she said she could be my mother.
Mildred was walking to Temple, so we walked together. As we started to walk she just reached out and took my hand and we crossed Broadway hand in hand. Because she walked so slowly, the light began to change to red while we were still in the middle of the street. I told her not to worry, as I put up my hand to indicate to the cars to wait. She responded by saying I can take bigger steps, and then started to walk at a very brisk pace that amazed me. She was remarkably spry physically and spiritually.
I noticed a slight accent in her speech and asked her where she was born. She told me that she was born in Vienna and left for France when the Germans came. At that time it was occupied France and she was in Lyon. I asked if she was married and she said that she was married four months when the Germans took her husband to Buchenwald where he was killed. She was pregnant at the time and gave birth to her only child, a daughter while in France. She said sadly that her daughter died of breast cancer here in the United States, and she has one grandson. He is 43 and lives in South Carolina and does visit, but due to the distance, it is not too frequent.
Mildred also told me of her only other family member, a brother who was killed by the Nazis four days before the war ended in 1945. She said they rounded up all of the men in town, lined them up and told them to pull down their pants. Then shot anyone who was circumcised. There was anger and sadness as she told me this story.
Mildred came to the United States in 1952 and has lived in her current apartment on the Upper West Side for the past 36 years.
She also informed me that she had been interviewed by Steven Spielberg for his Shoa project. Up until now I had my camera in my bag and asked her if I may take her photography. Her face lit up and she said with a bit of surprise "You want to take my picture?"I said of course. She agreed but made it very clear that I could not take her with her cane. It was very important to her. She put her cane on the side and stood proudly as I photographed her. As we continued to talk she told me that all of her teeth are hers. And said, you know why I still have my teeth? I never eat sugar.
Mildred said she goes often to temple especially on Friday (it was Friday afternoon.) She said she goes because the attendance at the temple is very low and they might have to close if there was not enough of a congregation. At the age of one hundred and one, she is still doing things for the community.
As we parted she reminded me of the importance of keeping the story alive of what happened during the Holocaust.