Joan Maas, 77, a Holocaust survivor who told her story to schoolchildren, died on May 21, 2010. Born Inge Maas on Dec. 19, 1932 in Mannheim, Germany, she escaped to the United States the day after the Pearl Harbor attack in December 1941 with her mother and sister. She lived with her “Oma” (grandmother) in Hyde Park and started first grade at age 9. Learning English at the Blackstone Library, she completed grammar school in 4 1/2 years.
She earned her B.A. degree from Roosevelt University, one of the few schools sympathetic to older students in the 1960s, and graduated Magna Cum Laude in 1969, then eagerly accepted a position as program director, working with the elderly.
She reinvented her professional life and won the Rookie of the Year award when she began using her real estate broker’s license at the age of 63. She became the first woman president of the Chicago Chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management and a mentor who shared the highest ethical standards with dozens of colleagues in several non-profit and private companies.
A civil rights activist, she marched with Rev. Martin Luther King and protested at the Chicago Democratic Convention in 1968.
She met her husband, David Rosenberg, when she was 15 and married into the Rosenberg family at age 18. Her family blossomed with the birth of three children, Stefani, Nancy and Stan. Her greatest gift was to become an Oma herself to Jessica Holat, Avi and Ben Chertok and Matthew and Jonathan Rosenberg, and her great grandson, Gabriel Holat, whom she fondly called her “Tic-Toc.”
She was stalwart in her eldest daughter Stefani’s valiant fight against Hodgkin’s disease. She offered unending support to her granddaughter Jessie and her entire family after the death of her daughter.
Diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in the early spring of 2006, she vowed to live long enough to see her first great-grandchild. After Gabriel was born, she vowed to live long enough to see Barack Obama elected president. She beat all the odds and lived long enough to see him serve his first year.
Joan worked closely with her daughter Nancy to document her story of survival and resistance in the memoir, Oma’s Story. Committed to building tolerance, she spoke to school-age children in the greater Chicago Metropolitan area, including middle schools in Oak Park and River Forest, which her grandchildren attended. She also spoke at the Oak Park Public Library.
“Remembrance of the Holocaust,” she said, “is only as vital as its relevance to the present. Potent lessons about the dangers of prejudging others require consistent repetition to help overcome the residual effects of abusive power. We can build tolerance in our communities by remembering both stories of oppression and the selfless acts of those who have tried to rescue each other.”
Visitation took place at the home of the Rosenbergs in Riverside. A celebration and memorial of Joan Maas’ life is scheduled for Saturday, June 26 at the 19th Century Club, 178 Forest, Oak Park, from 2 to 5 p.m.