SPOKANE, Wash. – The Gonzaga University Institute for Hate Studies today expressed its profound sorrow at the death Wednesday, Feb. 9 of one of its charter board members, Holocaust survivor Eva Lassman, 91. Lassman is remembered for her determined fight against hatred and her tireless efforts to promote peace and harmony through education.
“Eva Lassman was very dear to so many people in the Gonzaga community and throughout the Inland Northwest,” said John Shuford, director of the Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies. “While we are deeply saddened by her passing, we also feel blessed to have experienced her witness against hatred and prejudice, her passion for peace, and her deep love of others.”
“Eva’s life and work gave practical inspiration to all that the Institute for Hate Studies has done and will do in the future,” said Raymond Reyes, one of the Institute’s founders and Gonzaga’s associate academic vice president and interim director for Global Engagement. The Institute honored Lassman Oct. 13, 2009 with its inaugural Eva Lassman Award, given annually to individuals and organizations committed to “taking action against hate.” The YWCA recognized her in 2006 with the prestigious Carl Maxey Racial Justice Award for eliminating racism and empowering women. Gonzaga also recognized Lassman with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 2002 for her efforts to fight hate; Whitworth University honored Lassman the same year.
“Gonzaga was a special place for Eva, and the Institute was very important to her,” said Jerri Shepard, a Gonzaga education professor who has been interviewing those whose lives Eva touched. “I am so glad that we honored Eva while she was alive; she was very proud of the many awards she received and deeply appreciative for the recognition. Our community has been blessed by Eva’s voice. By courageously speaking up, she opened doors for others to come forward and confront hatred, in whatever form it appears.”
Despite her firsthand experience of inhumane acts, she never surrendered to hate or lost her indomitable spirit. Although the memories remained painful every time she presented on her experiences of the Holocaust, Lassman remained committed to fighting hate through education by sharing her story.
She was the highlight of Gonzaga’s 2000 Anne Frank Traveling Exhibit, where she brought the Holocaust to life through firsthand testimony of her survival. “It was an incredible community-building event,” Shepard recalled, “which brought together loving friends who have held her in their arms ever since.”
With uncommon grace and commitment, she told her story to thousands of students – from elementary school through Gonzaga’s doctoral program, in Washington, Idaho, and Canada. As her son, Richard Lassman, wrote: “She has certainly had reason to hate but she decided long ago that it wasn’t worth it. . . . In her talks about the Holocaust to young and old alike . . . she stressed the need to eliminate hatred from the world.”
While Lassman was widely known as a Holocaust survivor, she was beloved and will be remembered for her humanity.
“She was an amazing role model, and loving mother and grandmother who showed kindness, honesty, forgiveness, and love to all,” said Shepard. “She was also funny, stubborn, witty, smart, and a great cook. Children, teenagers, and adults of all ages, cultures, and religious backgrounds adored her.”
Though nearly all of Lassman’s immediate and extended family lost their lives in the Holocaust, she survived and recovered from her more than five years in Nazi ghettoes and camps. Lassman then spent four more years in a displaced persons camp in Germany before being sponsored by the Spokane Jewish community for resettlement in Spokane. Eva and her late husband, Walter Lassman (who died in 1976), met in the displaced persons camp and moved to Spokane in 1949. Together they raised three sons who have become outstanding regional and international leaders.
“All who were lucky enough to know Eva are better human beings for knowing her,” Reyes said. “She is missed and certainly left indelible impressions on my spirit and on this entire community.”
For more information or to interview someone at the Gonzaga Institute for Hate Studies, please contact its Director John Shuford at (509) 313-3665 or via e-mail.