Remembering Hedy Epstein

Hedy Epstein

Hedy stood up for the underdog, opposed abuse of power, and worked valiantly and consistently for a kinder, more just world. And in so doing she inspired multitudes. She was brave, funny, intelligent, and committed. For her, "never again" meant Never Again.

By Alison Weir
If Americans Knew
May 26, 2016

Dear friends,

I’m deeply saddened to tell you that our dear friend Hedy Epstein passed away today. She was 91.

Hedy, a holocaust survivor, was a courageous fighter for justice for all. Below is a full obituary of Hedy by her fellow St. Louis resident and devoted friend, Dianne Lee, who had been like a daughter to Hedy.

I thought I’d also share a few personal memories.

I first met Hedy about a dozen years ago when I gave a talk in St. Louis. Hedy, who had already been working for Palestinian rights for many years, came up to me after my talk and was wonderfully encouraging and supportive.

A few years later I was making a short video exposing Israel’s practice of strip-searching Palestinian women and children. Hedy, who had also endured a particularly cruel example of this treatment, agreed to tell her story on camera.

I travelled to Hedy’s home, where she recounted her painful and powerful story. At the end of her narrative, Hedy described her deep outrage and feeling that she would never again return to Israel.

However, Israeli officials had taken on the wrong person when they thought that their perverse treatment of Hedy would diminish her activism. She returned to Palestine many times to take part in the nonviolence resistance movement.

The next time I saw Hedy was in France in 2007, where I was visiting longtime Palestine activist Greta Berlin. (Greta was in the process of founding what turned into the flotilla movement.) Greta said that Hedy was going to be visiting soon, as was Mary Hughes-Thompson, another longtime activist for Palestine and flotilla founder.

Alison, Greta, Hedy, and MaryMe, Greta Berlin, Hedy Epstein, and Mary Hughes-Thompson in France at Greta's house

Greta suddenly came up with the idea that since random circumstances had caused us to converge, we should take the opportunity to travel to Palestine together. Greta, who did a great deal of traveling for her job, said she would use her airline miles to get us all tickets.

Before going to Palestine, however, we all visited a Nazi camp where Hedy’s mother had been imprisoned after Hedy’s parents had sent 14-year-old Hedy on a kindertransport to safety in England. Hedy, who had never seen her parents again, had determined to visit each of the camps in which they had been held. I believe this was the only one she hadn’t yet visited. This was an intensely sad experience, but it also seemed to give Hedy some sense of closure. I was glad that Greta had made this possible.

We then began our trip to Palestine. We were a somewhat unusual team: I was 61, Hedy was 83, and Greta and Mary were in between. Like virtually all trips to the Occupied Territories, we saw tragedy and beauty, violence and courage, joy and grief. We cried and laughed together.

(I sent some of my photos from this trip to Mary and Greta last month to upload on a special Facebook page honoring Hedy.)

I remember one time Hedy was almost arrested by Israeli soldiers. They wouldn’t let her through the checkpoint out of Hebron with Palestinians and the rest of us, because Hedy was Jewish. The soldiers insisted that Hedy take the Israeli settlers’ route, which Hedy adamantly refused to do. The soldiers finally gave up, and Hedy, who was about 5 feet tall, triumphantly passed through the Palestinian route.

The last time I saw Hedy was a few months ago.

After the JVP-USCEIO attacks on me, Hedy signed the Open Letter supporting me and calling for an end to such destructive and divisive attacks. I was truly honored that Hedy chose to do this, and saddened that she then came under attack herself when she refused to give in to pressure by USCEIO leaders to remove her name. In fact, rather than bend to their demands, Hedy arranged an official library talk for me at the St. Louis Main Library, and the room was full.

When the attacks on Hedy continued, California activist Jane Jewell, outraged at the way Hedy was being treated, invited Hedy for an extended visit, and held a delightful party for Hedy where a variety of San Francisco Bay Area activists came to honor Hedy. Some of us also took turns driving Hedy to various events and activities, and I was the fortunate one to take Hedy to a demonstration in downtown San Francisco that Hedy wished to join. At 91.

I’m just one of numerous people around the world who have such memories of Hedy. Hedy stood up for the underdog, opposed abuse of power, and worked valiantly and consistently for a kinder, more just world. And in so doing she inspired multitudes. She was brave, funny, intelligent, and committed. For her, “never again” meant Never Again.

When justice for Palestinians eventually comes, history will show that Hedy helped bring it about.

I miss her.

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Hedy Epstein

By Diane Lee
May 26, 2016

Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, 91, died at her home in St. Louis, Missouri, USA, on May 26, 2016. An internationally renowned, respected and admired advocate for human and civil rights, Hedy was encircled by friends who lovingly cared for her at home.

Born August 15, 1924, in the Bavarian region of Germany, her lifelong commitment to human rights was formed by the horrific experiences she and her family endured under the repressive Nazi regime.

Unable to secure travel documents for themselves, Hedy’s parents, Hugo and Ella (Eichel) Wachenheimer, arranged for 14-year-old Hedy to leave Germany on a Kindertransport. Hedy credited her parents with giving her life a second time when they sent her to England to live with kind-hearted strangers. Hedy’s parents, grandparents, and most of her aunts, uncles and cousins did not survive the Holocaust. Hedy remained in England until 1945 when she returned to Germany to work for the United States Civil Service. She joined the Nuremberg Doctors Trial prosecution in 1946 as a research analyst.

Hedy immigrated to the United States in 1948. She and her husband moved to St. Louis in the early 1960s, and shortly thereafter Hedy began working as a volunteer with the Freedom of Residence, Greater St. Louis Committee, a nonprofit organization dedicated to housing integration and advocacy for fair housing laws. Hedy worked for many years as a volunteer and board member, and ultimately served as the organization’s executive director during the mid-1970s.

During the 1980s, Hedy worked as a paralegal for Chackes and Hoare, a law firm that represented individuals in employment discrimination cases. As an advocate for equality and human rights, Hedy spoke out against the war in Vietnam, the bombing of Cambodia, and overly restrictive U.S. immigration policies. She spoke and acted in support of the Haitian boat people and women’s reproductive rights, and, following the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila, Hedy began her courageous and visionary work for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine.

During her later years, Hedy continued to advocate for a more peaceful world, and in 2002 was a founding member of the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition. Much of her later activism centered on efforts to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine. She founded the St. Louis chapter of Women in Black and co-founded the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee and the St. Louis chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. She traveled to the West Bank several times, first as a volunteer with the nonviolent International Solidarity Movement and repeatedly as a witness to advocate for Palestinian human rights. She attempted several times to go to Gaza as a passenger with the Freedom Flotilla, including as a passenger on the Audacity of Hope, and once with the Gaza Freedom March. Hedy addressed numerous groups and organizations throughout Europe and returned to Germany and her native village of Kippenheim many times.

Three days after her 90th birthday, Hedy was arrested for “failure to disperse.” She was attempting to enter Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s St. Louis office to ask for deescalation of police and National Guard tactics which had turned violent in response to protests following the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Hedy was a member of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center’s speakers’ bureau and gave countless talks at schools and community events. She shared her Holocaust experiences with thousands of Missouri youth as a featured speaker at the Missouri Scholars Academy for more than twenty years. She ended every talk with three requests: remember the past, don’t hate, and don’t be a bystander. Through the years, Hedy received numerous awards and honors for her compassionate service and relentless pursuit of justice.

Hedy is survived by son Howard (Terry) Epstein, and granddaughters Courtney and Kelly. She was beloved and will be truly missed by countless friends in St. Louis and around the world.

Hedy often shared her philosophy of service with these words: “If we don’t try to make a difference, if we don’t speak up, if we don’t try to right the wrong that we see, we become complicit. I don’t want to be guilty of not trying my best to make a difference.”

Hedy always did her best, and the difference she made is evident in the commitment and passion of those called to continue her work. Her friends and admirers honor and salute her deep and lifelong dedication to tikkun olam, the just re-ordering of the world and promise to remember, to stay human, and to never be bystanders.

A memorial service will be held in Forest Park at a date and time to be determined. Donations in Hedy’s name may be made to Forest Park Forever to establish a permanent tribute, 5595 Grand Drive in Forest Park, St. Louis, MO 63112; American Friends Service Committee, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102; American Civil Liberties Union, 125 Broad St. 18th Floor, New York, NY 10004; and/or American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation, 454 Whittier St., St. Louis, MO 63108.

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Palestine Photography Project


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