28 May 2016

Hedy Epstein – a Woman who was a Saint in her Lifetime

Hedy Epstein - Childhood Survivor of the Holocaust and Jewish anti-Zionist RIP

In the Roman Catholic Church you have to wait until you are dead before they canonise you and make you into a saint.  Hedy Epstein was one of the few people who became a saint during their lifetime. A holocaust survivor, she became an implacable opponent of injustice.

Because she was Jewish she, like so many of us, felt a particular need to speak up against racism perpetrated in the name of Jews.

But Hedy was to be found wherever injustice showed its head.  She went on the boat to Gaza and was arrested in Ferguson, Missouri.

Above all Hedy learnt the lesson that the Zionists could never hope to understand.  The Holocaust should have been the reason to oppose all racism, not to justify or condone Jewish racism.

Hedy, I salute you.  You will be missed.

Tony Greenstein

Hedy Epstein (Photo: Humans of St. Louis/Lindy Drew)
The following obituary for Hedy Epstein was sent to us by Dianne Lee. Epstein was a friend and mentor to us at Mondoweiss, and she will be sorely missed. 

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 Baden-Württemberg 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.

Much of her activism was focused on advocating for Palestinians under Israeli occupation.

Michael McLaughlin Reporter, The Huffington Post

Hedy Epstein fled Germany during the Holocaust and later protested injustice in the U.S. and abroad.

Hedy Epstein, who fled the Nazis as a child in Germany and later protested what she saw as injustice in the Middle East and near her home in St. Louis, died Thursday, her friend Dianne Lee told The Huffington Post. She was 91. 

Epstein’s long career in activist circles began when she was a teenager and continued for the rest of her life. At 90, she was arrested in St. Louis for “failure to disperse” while protesting Gov. Jay Nixon’s deployment of the National Guard to quell protests in Ferguson, Missouri. 

“I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90,” 
Epstein told The Nation. “We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re 90.”

Thank you for fighting for Justice, @hedyepstein! From the Holocaust to #Ferguson, Hedy fought for Peace! RIP pic.twitter.com/bLgq7UQo5M
— MariaChappelleNadal (@MariaChappelleN) May 26, 2016

Advocating for Palestinians under Israeli occupation was one of her core commitments. She traveled to the West Bank and attempted several times to sail to Gaza in recent years to protest Israel’s blockade of the area, according to an obituary that Lee wrote

Along with dozens of other Americans, Epstein boarded the Audacity of Hope in 2011 on one of her trips to the region. The boat departed from Greece in an attempt to join a flotilla trying to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza. 

Greek authorities quickly stopped the vessel and returned it to port, but Epstein tweeted about the experience.  

Our wonderful captain negotiated with them. We were in a holding pattern for probably 3 hours when the commandos arrived with drawn weapons.
— Hedy Epstein (@hedyepstein) July 1, 2011
I’m below deck surrounded by a doctor and a nurse and wonderful other people. Our spirits are high. I’m calm, unafraid, hopeful.
— Hedy Epstein (@hedyepstein) July 1, 2011
Epstein was born in the Bavarian region of Germany in 1924 as Hedy Wachenheimer. Her parents sent her to England at age 14 to escape the rule of Adolf Hitler, according to Epstein’s personal webpage. Most of her Jewish family, including her parents, did not survive the Holocaust.

In 1945, she returned to Germany to work for the occupying U.S. forces, and the following year she became a researcher for Nuremberg prosecutors in the war crimes trials of German doctors. 

Epstein immigrated to the United States in 1948 and eventually settled in St. Louis in the 1960s. In that city, she volunteered with the Freedom of Residence, an organization demanding fair housing laws and an end to segregation. In the 1970s, she became executive director of the group’s St. Louis chapter. 

According to Lee’s obituary, Epstein’s advocacy knew no limits. She took a stand against the Vietnam War, spoke up for the plight of Haitian boat people, and demanded women’s reproductive rights. 

Epstein often spoke to young people about her life through the Missouri Scholars Academy. She ended each talk with the same advice, according to Lee.

“Remember the past, don’t hate, and don’t be a bystander,” Epstein often said. 
Epstein is survived by her son Howard “Terry” Epstein and granddaughters Courtney and Kelly. 

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