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91-year-old Holocaust survivor passes away from complications with COVID-19

Walter Plywasky made a life in the Boulder area and loved taking his family on adventures.

BOULDER, Colo. — When Ariel Ocker is asked about her dad, Walter Plywasky, she says the yiddish word "meshuggah" comes to mind. 

"Which is kind of like a troublemaker, which is kind of what he was," she laughed from her Spokane, Washington home. 

Ocker spoke to us on Zoom a few days after her father passed away from complications with COVID-19 on January 28. 

In the years leading up to his death, Parkinson's made Plywasky weak. 

But weakness is not a word his daughter would use to describe his life. 

"To show any weakness to his persecutors was absolutely not ok," said Ocker. "He had to pretend to be healthy and pretend to be ok and that lesson stuck with him." 

His persecutors were the Nazi guards at six concentration camps. 

Captured as a boy with his family in Poland, Plywasky watched his dad get beaten to death, and saw his mom led to a gas chamber. 

"He was in chaos probably from the age of 10 until I don’t know his formative years probably between the ages of 16 or 17," said Ocker. 

Ocker says he became addicted to the good kind of chaos later on in life. He loved adventures in the outdoors where he raised his family on Sugarloaf Mountain in Boulder. 

He was outgoing and strong, sometimes to a fault. 

“He always referred to any kind of counseling or therapy as shrinks and he was very very masculine, a macho man," she said. "And I think that that was hard for him to try and be vulnerable." 

When Ocker thinks of the lessons she will pass on from her father, it's not his stories that come to mind first. 

“I feel like I could pass on his stories to the rest of the world, but I think fundamentally the most responsibility that I feel is to process that trauma and to not pass it on to my children as much as possible," said Ocker. 

She said her son Harry and his grandfather were "like two peas in a pod." 

Plywasky passed away on Harry's 13th birthday.

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