At the age of 90, Suzy Ressler still comes into work every day.She owns Mrs. Ressler’s Food Products, which she founded in 1954 with her husband, Emerich, soon after they arrived to the United States. They started with only one employee by selling chopped liver and, in the decades since, expanded to selling more than 50 kinds of meat and employing more than 100 workers.
“I had a baby, and it was a difficult time,” Ressler said. “My husband was a wonderful guy — I was married 58 years — but he couldn’t find himself, and he said to me one day, ‘Maybe you could help me just this once.’ I’m the kind of person, when she feels that she’s needed, then she puts in 100 percent. That’s my nature.”
The Resslers started the company as a means to get by. Three generations of Resslers now work at Mrs. Ressler’s — Ressler, her son-in-law, a granddaughter and two grandsons.
Ressler has no plans to retire. She said she wants the business to be a place that provides security and familiarity for
When Ressler first started, no one ever asked her about her story, even though she served a Jewish clientele. There was a sense, she believes, that her story was one that happened far away.
Ressler and her husband came to the United States after decades of turmoil and upheaval in Transylvania, now Romania. During her childhood, Romania and Hungary fought over Transylvania, creating an uncertain political climate. Her school switched between teaching classes in Romanian and Hungarian.
Anti-Semitism was a part of life as well. She was pelted with rotten tomatoes by a young Hungarian man on the way to her first day of first grade.
“You had to be watchful, but you didn’t know any better,” she said. “You couldn’t complain. You were Jewish. You were not a citizen that people wanted.”
In 1944, she was deported. She spent the next year in concentration camps. For the 10 days before she was liberated, Ressler ate nothing but snow along her path as she and other prisoners were marched through the Polish countryside.
After the war, Ressler returned to Transylvania with her mother. She attended high school to finish out her last year. She also got married.
Following World War II, Russia invaded Transylvania, which become part of Romania and the larger Soviet Union. Ressler and her husband fled in the middle of the night with few possessions. It took two years to get to the United States.
Ressler said it is her duty to speak about the Holocaust. She wants people to understand the climate of hatred that led up the Holocaust, to ensure it never happens again.
“I grew up being afraid because a police state is a terrible thing,” she said. “I grew up in a police state, and then after I was liberated, I ended up in a police state because the Russians were occupying my birthplace. When I came to this country, that’s the first time that I felt safe. I didn’t feel like I had to be afraid. Lately, I am afraid again.”
Ressler reads and listens to the news in 11 different languages and is disconcerted by the anti-Semitism she sees, particularly in the Hungarian press. She is concerned about what is happening in the U.S. as well, such as the rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“Where I am today, I really have to speak about my experiences because somebody who was brighter than me said, ‘Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it,’” Ressler said. “I would not like my grandchildren and great-grandchildren to go through that again — oh God forbid.”
Grandson Michael Israeli, vice president of Mrs. Ressler’s, said, “She’s an inspiration to our family. We still have that family-type feeling to the business. Even though we may have 130 or so employees, people still see Mrs. Ressler walking to work.” JN
This article first appeared in the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.