Stefan Einhorn dies at 94 turned tears into laughter

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When Stefan Einhorn suffered a stroke last month, friends and family gave little thought to saying their final goodbyes. They expected him to make a full recovery.

That’s how animated and upbeat he was in life.

Sadly, it was not to be. Time finally caught up with the Holocaust survivor and longtime San Francisco resident. Einhorn died Aug. 12 at the age of 94.

His daughter, Helen Aviv, said her father “was not like any ordinary man. He had strengths, determination and a philosophy of life that allowed him to meet all the difficult challenges thrown his way, and God knows how very many challenges he had to overcome.”

Those included the murder of his entire family during the Holocaust and his own imprisonment in the worst of the death camps. But together with his wife of 63 years, Cecilia Einhorn (who died in May 2009), he built a new life in San Francisco.

He was a house painter and a grocery store owner. He was also a longtime member of San Francisco’s Congregation Ner Tamid and a proud Zionist. Above all, his family says, Einhorn tried hard to abide by his best advice to others: “Turn your tears into laughter.”

Born in Bochnia, Poland, in 1916, Einhorn became a breadwinner for his family after the untimely death of his father. He excelled in art, especially ceramics and pottery. He also was active with the Zionist youth organization Shomer Hatzair.

His family was killed in the war, but he managed to survive Auschwitz and Mauthausen. Relocated in Regensburg, Germany, he met and later married Cecilia Frommer, also from Bochnia and also a survivor. The couple planned to move to Israel but ultimately decided on the United States. They docked at the port of New Orleans with only $5 in hand.

Eventually they made their way to San Francisco. Though he spoke no English at first, Einhorn persevered. He worked as a house painter and later opened a grocery store in the Mission District. He and his partner served the poorest of the city’s poor for 24 years, earning a reputation for kindness and caring.

“One day a man came into the store to return a bottle of liquor,” Helen Aviv recalled. “He explained that he had stolen the bottle, but that once outside when people heard that he had stolen it from [Einhorn], they told him he must return it.”

Einhorn was principled, but also a jokester of the highest order. Einhorn loved to make his friends and family laugh. Aviv remembers attending High Holy Days services with her father one year. On each seat was a personalized appeal card for Israel Bonds.

“My father noticed that one of the members near his seat didn’t show up,” she said. “My father, as a joke, took the other bond card and folded over the $10,000 donation flap. I had to try really hard to not burst out laughing.”

Einhorn never lost his Zionist passion, and his daughter recalled her father’s first visit to Israel — for her wedding — as a pivotal event.

“He would walk down the street with the excitement of a young child as he realized that everyone in the country was Jewish,” she said. “He excitedly said, ‘Even the policeman is Jewish,’ and when he heard the birds singing would say, ‘They are Jewish, too.’”

In retirement, Einhorn enjoyed long walks with his beloved Cecilia, family getaways in Calistoga and talking politics or philosophy. His daughter, Anna Mathias, recalled how hard he took the loss of his wife last year, but he never lost his instinct for joy.

Stefan Einhorn is survived by daughters Anna Mathias Shearman of Los Angeles and Helen Aviv of Israel; brother Lulek Frommer of Israel; and four grandchildren. Donations may be made to Congregation Ner Tamid, 1250 Quintara St., S.F., CA 94116.

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.