Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Survivor of Tsarist Pogroms Dies

APMaryasha Garelik, left, dancing with her granddaughter Henya Laine in 1965.
NEW YORK -- "Bubbe" Maryasha Garelik, who lived through the entire 20th century, surviving the pogroms of tsarist Russia, Soviet anti-Semitism and Nazi terror and then dispensing her wisdom to thousands of Lubavitch Jews, has died. She was 106.

She died Wednesday night in Brooklyn's Crown Heights neighborhood and was buried Thursday at the Old Montefiore Cemetery near the grave of the ultra-Orthodox group's revered "rebbe," Rabbi Menachem Schneerson.

"She was small in size -- less than 5 feet tall -- but a giant in stature," said Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky.

For decades, the bubbe, which means grandmother in Yiddish, dispensed wisdom to thousands in her Brooklyn neighborhood who came seeking her guidance. Her advice came from decades of trial by fire.

According to a Lubavitch biography of Bubbe Maryasha, her father was killed in a pogrom in tsarist Russia when she was 5, and her grandparents, with whom she and her mother lived, were subsequently executed.

Years later, under Soviet rule, Garelik, her husband and their young children were evicted from their apartment into the deep snow because he refused to do factory work on the Jewish Sabbath. As a Jewish underground operative, he was arrested in the 1930s during Stalin's rule and shot. His wife did not know exactly what happened to him until 1998, when his fate was revealed in an unsealed Soviet secret police file.

"She was a lone person who stood up to a regime that shot her husband in cold blood in a field," Kotlarsky said. "She was left with six children, ages 1 to 14, and she persevered and raised them by herself, with ethical and moral integrity."

When authorities warned her against lighting the Sabbath candles, Garelik fled with her children. The family moved six times in three years due to harassment from Soviet authorities; one home was a stable.

But she was resourceful, growing potatoes behind a synagogue to feed her family -- with enough left over to pay for the dilapidated synagogue to be fixed.

When an acquaintance tried to persuade her to send her children to the communist public school, she said emphatically: "Stalin will be torn down before my children are indoctrinated that way," her granddaughter Henya Laine, who is now herself a grandmother in Brooklyn, quoted her as saying.

By 1941, when the Germans advanced onto Soviet soil, Garelik and her brood escaped to Uzbekistan, where she made and sold socks to survive. In 1946, they ended up in a detention camp in Germany.

After the war, she moved to Paris, where she established a Lubavitch Jewish girls' school that still exists. She immigrated to the United States in 1953, helping to start a Brooklyn organization whose members visited the sick, and a boys' school, for which she collected money into old age.

God gave her "two healthy feet," she would say. "I can walk, I can take care of myself and help others."