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Meet the 90-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor Who Fought Off a Purse Snatcher

By Danielle Tcholakian | September 29, 2016 7:13am
 Gina Zuckerman moved to New York 60 years ago after six years in German labor camps in World War II.
Gina Zuckerman moved to New York 60 years ago after six years in German labor camps in World War II.
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DNAinfo/Danielle Tcholakian

GREENWICH VILLAGE — The 90-year-old woman who fought off a purse-snatcher in Greenwich Village said she's always been a fighter — which got her through World War II after her home country, Poland, was invaded by Nazis in 1939.

Gina Zuckerman, who wouldn't let go of her purse as she was knocked to the ground Tuesday by a woman trying to steal it, has lived in New York City for the past 60 years, after surviving six years of forced labor in Germany and then being brought here by a Jewish organization.

"I was very lucky because I was very humble," she said. "I took any job I was given — at first."

She studied at Washington Irving High School and ultimately had a 28-year career in advertising on Madison Avenue as "a Girl Friday," she said.

"In those days, it was called a Girl Friday — a girl who had to have answers to everything, know everything," she said.

Even now she doesn't truly consider herself retired because she volunteers at the senior center near Washington Square Park that she walks to everyday for lunch from her studio apartment in Chelsea.

That's where the petite nonagenarian was headed about noon Tuesday when she was followed and then attacked by a woman who tried to steal her purse from the shopping cart she pushes everywhere she goes for support, she said.

"She was a little taller than I was, but very big, with black hair. That's all I remember," said the barely 5-foot-tall Zuckerman in an interview in her apartment Wednesday.

Zuckerman keeps her pocketbook fastened to her cart with two clips that the woman yanked off before snatching the purse, she said.

But Zuckerman grabbed onto the purse and refused to let go. The woman dug her nails into the 90-year-old's arm, drawing blood and bruising her.

"She had very sharp nails, she scratched me deeply," said Zuckerman, whose right forearm was wrapped in bandages. "It's black [and] blue."

The woman tried to convince passersby that she was Zuckerman's home health aide, but when someone noticed Zuckerman's arm bleeding, an ambulance was called and the woman fled.

"She said she worked for me, but I never saw her. Nobody ever worked for me, I do everything myself," she said. "I never needed anything from anybody."

The suspect was still being sought as of Wednesday night.

Zuckerman said she was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance "and right behind us, a whole cordon of police."

"Police escorted me everyplace, stood by me in the hospital while I was examined, and took me in a police car home when it was all over," she said.

At the hospital, she was given a tetanus shot and five stitches for the gash in her arm, plus another bandage around an injured finger on her right hand.

"I have a pacemaker!" she added. "Can you imagine, I didn't faint!"

They also gave her a cane, she said, though she worried she won't be as adept walking with it as she is with her shopping cart.

She practiced with it around her apartment Wednesday, preparing for her first trip back to the senior center Thursday — she hadn't been back since the attack.

"I'm scared," she said. "I'm shaking. Somebody followed me with the intention of harming me. The police were very angry."

The woman ripped her pocketbook "all over the place," Zuckerman said, but even if she hadn't, Zuckerman no longer wants to carry it with her.

"I'm going to take a coat with pockets," she said.

She only had $10 in her purse at the time of the attack, she said, but was more concerned about the documents she was carrying, such as her ID card, telephone numbers and addresses.

"Five dollars I would have given her, if she needed [it] badly," Zuckerman said.

Zuckerman was touched by how much the police seemed to care about her, and also by the reactions of her neighbors.

"People in my house were kind, everyone was very sympathetic," she said.

But she balked at the idea that anyone is worried about her.

"I'm a fighter," she said. "I used to be dancer and a gymnast, so this is why I'm very good at fighting."

A registered Democrat, Zuckerman said that while "90 is a very good age," she is looking forward to turning 91 next month — "if I live another three weeks" — and voting in the election for "Ms. Clinton," she said.

She's "very excited" to vote possibly for the first female president, she said, but is also really not a fan of Donald Trump.

"I don't like the things he says," she said. "I don't like rude men. Enough rude men."