Linda Breder, Holocaust survivor and activist, dies at 86

If the post-Holocaust watchwords are “Never forget,” Linda Breder made sure no one ever did.

The former Auschwitz prisoner survived that hell, only to return several times decades later, co-leading youth groups and teaching younger generations the lessons of Holocaust.

Breder died Sept. 19 in San Francisco, the city she called home since 1966.

After losing her entire family in the Holocaust, with the exception of a sister, Breder became an outspoken survivor later in life. Her accounts of the war years have been included in documentaries, books, magazines, classrooms and oral history projects.

In 1997 she was the keynote speaker for the North Peninsula’s annual Yom HaShoah observance. And in 2005, her words were used as the opening quote for Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz’s statement on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz.

Linda (Libusha) Breder was born in Stropkov, Slovakia, on Feb. 24, 1924. Brought up in an Orthodox home, she and her family were deported to Auschwitz in March 1942. One of her jobs at the camp: sorting through the clothes of murdered fellow Jews. Her stay lasted more than three years, but Breder survived until liberation on May 5, 1945.

After the war, Breder returned to her family home. “The house and property was confiscated,” she told j. in a 2000 interview. “They slammed the door in my face. ‘Go back where you came from,’ they said.”

Upon returning to Slovakia, she met fellow survivor Fridrich Breder in a bread line. They married six months later, immigrating with their children to San Francisco in the mid-1960s.

It was in the Bay Area that she began speaking out about her experiences. She joined the Holocaust Center of Northern California’s survivors speakers bureau, addressing scores of audiences over the years. Talking about the Holocaust was never easy, she once admitted. “I talk and I cry,” she said, “and I cry and I talk.”

She also made four trips to Poland with youth groups such as March of the Living, including her last in 2005 with 20 Bay Area teens. At Auschwitz-Birkenau that final time, she pointed out the very bunk that she and eight other Slovak girls slept on, without blankets or straw, clothed only in bloody lice-ridden uniforms stripped from the bodies of slaughtered Russian prisoners.

“I never, ever will go back,” she told j. after her return. “But I am happy I went. Because the people I joined, the young people, they deserve it. They listened to everything, and I think they were very pleased to have someone there to talk firsthand, a survivor.”

Breder is survived by husband Fridrich Breder of San Francisco; sister Edith Wellisch of Daly City; children Pavel Breder and Dasha Grafil; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Donations can be made to Jewish Family and Children’s Services, 2150 Post St., San Francisco, CA 94115; or the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 100 Raoul Wallenberg Place SW, Washington, DC 20024.

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.