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Obituaries in the News

February 8, 2004

Fritz Hirschberger

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Fritz Hirschberger, a Holocaust survivor who was a star athlete, soldier and political organizer before gaining fame as an artist late in life, has died. He was 91.

Hirschberger died Jan. 8, family members said.

Hirschberger completed his stark, angry paintings about the Holocaust after his retirement. His art expressed his hatred for the Nazis and anguish over the experiences of the Holocaust.

Hirschberger’s paintings, based on his experiences and his research about World War II during the 1980s, were exhibited at Holocaust museums throughout the United States and Europe.

Hirschberger was born to a Christian mother and a Jewish father in Dresden, Germany, in 1912.

After Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1933, he founded the Dresden chapter of an underground Zionist organization called Betar. He became a star hockey player in the 1930s, going on to compete in the First International Jewish Winter Olympics in Slovakia in 1936. Two years later, Hirschberger and his family were deported to Poland.

Hirschberger joined the Polish Army in 1939 and fought against the Nazis and Soviets. After Hitler and Stalin defeated Poland, Hirschberger fled to the Soviet Union, where he was arrested and sentenced to 20 years in a gulag, but was freed a year later when the Germans invaded Russia in 1941. Hirschberger later fought with the British in North Africa and Italy.

After the war, Hirschberger learned that the rest of his family died in German concentration camps and slave-labor facilities.

Hirschberger moved to New York with his wife, Gisela, in 1947.

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Herbert Semmel

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Herbert Semmel, whose work as a civil rights attorney included a lawsuit that forced the Empire State Building to comply with the Americans With Disabilities Act, has died. He was 73.

Semmel died Thursday after a yearlong fight with cancer, family friend Bob Rawitch said.

Before moving to Los Angeles, Semmel served for nine years as litigation director of New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

In 1992, after the expiration of the grace period for the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, the group’s Disability Law Center sued to force the Empire State Building to make its observatory and adjacent areas open to the disabled. The lawsuit was settled when the building agreed to comply in 1994.

For the past 10 years, Semmel had worked as a staff attorney for the National Senior Citizens Law Center in Los Angeles.

With that group, he successfully sued in several states to continue Medicaid benefits for people who were losing Social Security insurance. He also successfully fought for legislation requiring better staffing for nursing home residents.

He received an award in November from the National Legal Aid and Defender Association for his lifelong contributions to social justice.

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