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Holocaust survivor celebrates 100th birthday in Bellmore

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The party for Theresa Mermelstein’s 100th birthday in Bellmore on June 4 was a massive celebration, with family, friends and guests of honor in abundance — despite a downpour. For Mermelstein, though, reaching the milestone is nothing short of a “miracle.”

In 1944, Mermelstein, a young Czechoslovakian Jew, survived a year inside Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest and deadliest of the Nazi concentration camps. There she was separated from much of her family, including her mother and grandparents. She escaped when the camp was liberated in 1945.

The memories of that dark period still dredge up sharp emotions for Mermelstein, who fought back tears while recounting them. “It’s a miracle I survived a year in a concentration camp,” she told the Herald. “God is good to me.”

“For a year, every morning and night I walked to the camp, dirty, barefoot,” she said. “But I survived. It’s a miracle.”

When Theresa Gruenberger, known to family and friends as Terry, arrived in America in 1948, she didn’t speak English, she said. In Brooklyn, she met Jakob Mermelstein, whom she married a week later. The two moved with their family to Bellmore in 1967, to the house where she now lives.

The party last Friday was as much a celebration of the history that Mermelstein carries with heras it was a celebration of her legacy that will live on. 

“Your story is the story of the Jewish people,” said Rabbi Charles Klein of the Merrick Jewish Centre, where Mermelstein and her family are congregants. “A girl from [Mukacevo] who winds up in the worst place that humanity ever designed — Auschwitz-Birkenau — and manages to find a life with the love of her life.”

“I can attest to the fact that the [Nassau County] Legislature does not agree on many things, but we all agreed that we want to wish you a very happy birthday and celebrate your 100 years of beautiful life,” said Legislator Steve Rhoads, who presented Mermelstein with a citation.

She also received an honor from the Town of Hempstead, and Councilman Chris Carini, along with other officials, attended the party.

In her Bellmore home, Mermelstein stays busy. Framed paintings of colorful flowers handmade by Mermelstein adorn many of the home’s walls. After an interview the day following her birthday, she was ready to get started on a homemade meal: chicken soup, a proud favorite of hers.