In Memory of Zezette Larson/Black

A Photograph of Zezette

Clemence Zezette Larson-Black

Clemence Zezette Larsen-Black passed away on November 23,2010 at the home she shared with her husband of eighteen years, Steve Black on Orrs Island,Maine. The obituary from the November 27, 2010 Boston Globe is presented below.

Clemence Zezette Larsen

LARSEN, Clemence Zezette Of Newton, Massachusetts died peacefully in her sleep Tuesday morning at her summer home on Orr's Island, Maine. Known for her wonderfully irreverent, feisty sense of humor, her leadership skills and contributions in the field of housing, Zezette's life in the US epitomizes, in some ways, the American success story. Despite surviving imprisonment in Auschwitz, a death march and the destruction of her beloved community of family and friends, she was able to create a life in the United States that benefited both young and old.

Many friends and colleagues have been inspired by her dedication and hard work for the wellbeing of others and the rights of all peoples to live with respect and dignity in a multi-cultural society. Her passions included travel, listening to jazz and classical music and all things French! Born February 21, 1929 in Brussels, Belgium, the daughter of Esther and Henri van der Sluis, she enjoyed being close to her assimilated, French-speaking Jewish grandparents in pre-world war Belgium as well as spending school vacations with her Dutch grandparents in Amsterdam, Holland. Like so many European Jews, her family was ill-prepared for the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust. With the help of the Belgian underground, however, she and her brother, Marcel, were initially hidden in Catholic institutions. When her parents went into hiding, Zezette, at age 12, was taken to a Catholic convent and boarding school in Overies, Belgium under the pseudonym Marguerite Michaels. Suffering extreme homesickness, she was allowed to visit her parents during the Easter holidays. Together with her mother and father she was captured on Easter Sunday 1943 and deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp three weeks later.

As a dedicated girl scout, she remembers departing the Belgian deportation center wearing her Belgian "girl guide" uniform. Upon arrival in Auschwitz, her mother was selected for immediate death in the infamous gas chambers of Birkenau. She was to see her father only once during their imprisonment in Auschwitz. His final fate remains unknown to this day. As a healthy-looking 14-year-old Zezette is selected for slave labor in a munitions factory operating in close proximity to the extermination camp. She survived both the extreme conditions of Auschwitz-Birkenau as well as the death march from Birkenau in the spring of 1945.

Her physical recovery was achieved in a 2-month stay at an allied military hospital in Leipzig, Germany. With the help of the International Red Cross, Zezette was returned to Brussels in August 1945 and reunited with her brother, who also survived the genocide. For the next 5 years ZeZette and her brother lived with their Dutch uncle near Amsterdam. In this chaotic post-war period, Zezette learned Dutch, graduated from the School of Social Work in Rotterdam and attempted to pick up the pieces of a shattered life. With the encouragement of her Dutch uncle, she emigrated to the United States in 1951 under a war orphans' quota system.

Again, she was confronted with the emotional loss of family and friends. Despite intense loneliness, she found work stuffing bills into envelopes at Macy's, she studied English at the School for the Foreign-Born, and married a fellow European immigrant, Sven Larsen, from whom she was later divorced. During this time she earned a Master's Degree in Social Work from Rutgers University. Her professional accomplishments included work for a Protestant child care and adoption agency in New York City, employment with Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Boston and serving as Executive Director of Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly of Greater Boston.

She was a tireless advocate for the rights of the disenfranchised. She served in various capacities on the boards of numerous organizations, including B'nai B'rith, America's oldest Jewish service organization, the Newton Community Development Foundation, Jewish Family and Children's Service Agency and the New England Elderly Housing Association. In recognition of her outstanding and inspirational achievements in the fields of social work and business Zezette was honored by Boston Woman magazine in 1989 as one of Boston's 100 Interesting Women. Facing History and Ourselves honored her with its Humanitarian Award in 1996. From 1981 - 1992 she was the President of Barkan Management Company of Boston.

Since 1976 Zezette has been an active member of the Board of Facing History and Ourselves, an international educational organization whose mission is to develop programs that examine racism, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice and discrimination. As a resource speaker for FHAO, she has spoken to many audiences of all ages and has championed the power of education to address injustices wherever they occur.

In 1992 she married Stephen Black of Orr's Island, Maine, a German language teacher and former board member of the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine. She is survived by her husband, Stephen, her step-daughter, Annika Black of Bridgton, Maine; her "honorary daughter", Lillian Esther Stone of Providence, Rhode Island; her brother, Marcel, of St.Gor, France and her nephews, Paul Henri and Jean-Pierre of Holland and Marcel "Junior" of Rochefort, France; nieces Sjoakje Ton of Doetinchem, Holland and Sophie Van der Sluis of Rochfort, France; and grand-nephews Pierre, Dio, Marceau and a grand-niece, Sara.

In lieu of flowers contributions in memory of Zezette would be gratefully accepted: Facing History and Ourselves, 16 Hurd Road, Brookline, MA 02146. E-mail: or at the Nuer Foundation, P.O. Box 150154, San Rafael, CA 94915 - 0154. Alternatively at the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine, Michael Klahr Center, University of Maine Augusta, 46 University Drive, Augusta, ME 04330-1644

A burial service will be held at the Bailey Island Community Cemetery, Bailey island, Maine at 2:00 PM, Friday, November 26, 2010. Friends are invited to sit Shiva at the home of Sonia and Joseph Michelson, 94 Park Avenue, Newton Centre, MA on Saturday, November 27, 4:00-9:00 PM. Arrangements by The Jewish Funeral Home, Portland, Maine.

Adapted from the Obituary Published in The Boston Globe on November 27, 2010