Sonia Zyroff passed away on April 29, in Palo Alto, California, at the age of 88. Sonia lived in Duluth for 50 years. For nearly a decade during the 1970's, she appeared on KDLH on the "Town and Country'' show with her weekly segment called "Sewing with Sonia''. She was known and loved by many Duluthians, not only as a teacher of fashion design on TV and in local schools, but also as a Jewish survivor of the Nazi Holocaust of World War II. She spoke and educated on this subject throughout northern Minnesota and Wisconsin, and was frequently interviewed by newspapers and television. Sonia was haunted frequently by the nightmares of her Holocaust experience. For the first ten years she lived in silent pain, unable to share her experience with Americans, who either didn't believe her or were unable to empathize. In the last 30 years, however, as information about the Holocaust became more widely disseminated and discussed, she also became more vocal. She became a spokesperson for the Holocaust, and was frequently invited to speak at schools and churches in the Northland region. Because of her experiences as an immigrant, she opened her heart and home to all newcomers to Duluth. When Russian refugees arrived in Duluth during the 1970s, she immediately ran to assist them by serving as translator, helping them get settled and providing them with financial assistance. Sonia was born and grew up just outside the Polish town of Horochov, now part of the Ukraine. She had a special talent for languages, and by the time she was an adult, she could speak seven. When the Nazis invaded the Ukraine in 1941, Sonia was placed in a ghetto where she became a slave laborer in a tailor shop. Her skills as a seamstress helped save her life. On the eve of the mass extermination of the ghetto, Sonia made a harrowing escape. For two years she was on the run and in hiding, always one step ahead of her pursuers. The rest of her family was not as fortunate. One by one, she learned of the torture and murder of her husband, child, both parents, four brothers and a sister. She became the only Jewish survivor of her town. The Nazis knew this and made it their obsession to capture her. She survived through the generosity of certain righteous gentiles who risked their own lives to hide her. When the war ended she met and married Alfred Zyroff, a resistance fighter who had escaped a Nazi prison camp. In 1947, after two years in a refugee camp, the Zyroffs arrived in Duluth, thanks to the sponsorship of Sonia's cousins and closest living relatives, the Tesler, Winthrop and Gurovitch families, then living in Duluth. In 1992, Sonia made a special return trip to the Ukraine to thank one of the righteous gentile families that helped save her life. She also persuaded the mayor of the town of Horochov to erect a monument on the mass grave to finally acknowledge that 4000 Jewish people were buried there. Sonia was a talented artist who won perennial awards for holiday decorations and costumes. She created and modeled elegant women's fashions that were the center of attention at many social affairs. She was also a wonderful old world cook, who could make delicious ethnic foods from scratch. Sonia loved Duluth and her home on the 3800 block of East Superior Street. Despite the departure from Duluth in recent years of most of her family and friends, Sonia was reluctant to leave. She made new friends easily. She always praised the tolerance of the people of Duluth and cherished their friendship, which she would contrast to the bigotry encountered in her early life. But after her husband Alfred's death in 1995, Sonia's health began to deteriorate. She moved to Palo Alto, CA in 1997 to be nearer her two children. Sonia is survived by her son, Jack Zyroff, a neuroradiologist at the Scripps Clinic in La Jolla, CA and her daughter, Judith Zyroff, an advertising executive in San Francisco, CA. She has four grandchildren, Dena Zyroff of Boston, MA, an architect; David Zyroff of Jerusalem, Israel, Adam Riff and Daniel Riff of Palo Alto, CA, all students. She has one great-grandchild, Daphna Esther Spira, now 11 months old.
CONDOLENCES:Can be sent to J. Zyroff, 858 Northampton Drive , Palo Alto, CA, 94303. Donations can be made to the American Society of Yad Vashem, 500 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1600, New York, NY, 10110-1699