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Remembering Femma Mahdessian, 1933-2020

On Wednesday, April 8, 2020, Femma Mahdessian, 86, passed away at her home in Santa Monica, CA, with her loving daughter, Y Fray, at her side, after a two year battle with lung cancer.

From her birth on October 30, 1933 in Amsterdam, to her death, she touched everyone who knew her with her fortitude, beauty, and character. Femma, along with her parents, Solomon and Yette (Van de kar) Slap, endured the horrors of the Holocaust, and were survivors of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. After liberation, the family welcomed the birth of Femma’s sister, Rhea (Cannon) Slap. The family immigrated to South America, living briefly in Montevideo and Buenos Aires, before settling in Los Angeles in 1954. On the ship from Buenos Aires, Femma met her first husband, Max Fray, and they were married in Los Angeles, in 1956. Together they had one daughter, Y Fray. Femma’s astounding beauty was the reason she met her 2nd husband, anesthesiologist, Dr. Haig Mahdessian, while working at a department store in Los Angeles. He saw her working behind the cosmetics counter, and for him, it was literally love-at-first-sight. They had one daughter, Debbie Mahdessian. Femma and Haig loved to play nightly games of Scrabble with each other, and were both so competitive, that it led to a divorce. Love ultimately trumped competition, and the two remarried each other and remained together until Haig’s death in 2006.

Femma had two great passions which complemented each other, her Welsh Terrier, Pickles, and hiking. Whether leading hikes for the local chapter of The Sierra Club, backpacking in Yosemite or spending summers trekking the Swiss Alps, Femma never met a trail she couldn’t conquer. When Femma could no longer hike, due to her illness, she took great joy in making sure that Pickles was able to still enjoy hiking, and arranged for Pickles to be part of a group dog hike multiple times a week. Pickles’ untimely passing in the fall of 2019 devastated Femma, and delivered a blow to her unflappable strength that she was unable to overcome. After Haig’s passing in 2006, Femma discovered another passion and talent, writing. She enrolled in courses at Emeritus College in Santa Monica. Her stories are a personal, touching glimpse into her life and experiences during and after the Holocaust. In her writings, the beauty of her post-war life was often juxtaposed with an experience during the war, and somehow, she was able to acknowledge the gifts in each. Her stories have been published in “The Pen & Brush” and are also going to be delivered to the Bergen-Belsen Museum.

Femma is survived not only by her sister and daughters, but by five grandsons (Sam, Henry, Theo, Oliver & Simon Catanzaro), her son-in-law, Theodore Catanzaro, and her cousin, Eddy Slap. Her vitality and originality will be missed not only by them, but by her friends and all of those who knew her.

Per Femma’s wishes, there will be no formal funeral services. When the current situation with quarantine and social distancing lifts family, friends, and others whose lives Femma touched, will all be invited to Will Rogers Park, where she spent so many wonderful times, to honor, reminisce, and celebrate the indomitable person that she was.

In this time of the COVID pandemic, in lieu of any donations, the family asks that everyone take care of themselves and each other.

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