Hilde Bruell, an Austrian Jew who witnessed and escaped the horrors of Nazi Germany, danced as a ballerina across European opera houses, and built her own home and businesses in Oakland, California, died November 21, 2022 at the age of 106.
She was born July 4, 1916 in Vienna to parents Lili and Norbert. Hilde lived a childhood of privilege and high expectations in Austria, “practicing ballet until her feet were bloody.” That life came to an end when the Nazis took power. Like many Jewish families, they lost everything and were forced to flee to survive.
Hilde first went to London where she and her mother worked as domestics; her brother Bertold immigrated before her. Bertold enlisted the help of architect James Fitch, the “21” Club, and Quakers to help her and her mother land in New York. In New York, she became active as a union leader while working in a garment factory. A highlight for Hilde was meeting and dining with Golda Meir who had come to New York to lend support to the garment workers.
She eventually found her home in Oakland, California, where she met her long-time companion David Fyne. As business partners, the two built more than a dozen car washes, operated an accident reporting business, opened and operated several ballet schools in the East Bay and Silicon Valley—and built the apartment building on Lake Merritt that Hilde lived in for over 50 years.
Until her mid-90s, Hilde traveled to Vienna twice a year to reconnect with her heritage. And at a century old, Hilde did 100 pliés a day, walked Lake Merritt daily dressed to the nines, and made lifelong friends in the apartment building she owned. Thanks to Kathy, Amy, Teddy, Maia, and Marisha, she was able to stay in the apartment she loved. The Mastick Senior Center in Alameda was another source of friendship. Dave, Vicki, Millie, Jossie, Anna, and Ingrid became beloved friends. Rudi, Fumio, Joachim visited and called often, regularly sending sweets and updates on friends in the United States and Europe.
In her final years, Hilde grew very close with her niece Stephany and Stephany's husband Beau Sadick. The two visited Hilde frequently, helping her manage her affairs, planning her birthday parties, and providing companionship as she prepared for the end of her life. Above all, Hilde loved and valued her family—and held high expectations of them.
Hilde took pride in the sharpness of her mind and her own independence. She lived on her own until the age of 103, after which she entered the Pacifica Senior Living, under the care of Suncrest Hospice. She respected and adored her caregivers; they returned the love and adoration.
Memories of Nazism and grief for her many family and friends who died in the holocaust continued to haunt Hilde, but she found fulfillment in sharing those stories and imploring younger generations to stay vigilant against the evils of racism, fascism, and bigotry of all kinds. Hilde was eternally grateful to the United States for taking her in when Nazis invaded her homeland.
Hilde experienced two global pandemics, danced for the king and queen of England, witnessed the best and worst of humanity, and took immense pride in the life and career she built in the country that became her home. After living an odyssey of a life, she passed away peacefully from natural causes.
Hilde will be buried between her mother Lili and her brother Bertold at the Washington Park Memorial in Seatac, WA. She is survived by her niece Stephany Bruell (Beau Sadick); nephews Mark Bruell and David Bruell (Jan Bruell); grand-nephew Alex Bruell; and cousins Bill Reinfeld, Heidi Reinfeld, Lisa Mueller, and Daniella Camhy.
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