Edith Stim­ler

Heroic Auschwitz sur­vivor who risked per­sonal dan­ger smug­gling bread to starv­ing in­mates

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

SHE HAD sur­vived Auschwitz and was de­ter­mined to live ev­ery day to its fullest. But Edith Stim­ler, who has died aged 87, was haunted by the loss of one of her most im­por­tant pos­ses­sions: a picture of her fa­ther Shloime, who had been mur­dered by the Nazis, and af­ter whom she had named her first son. Then in 2010 she was re­united with his im­age af­ter a mag­a­zine from her home town printed an in­ter­view about her war ex­pe­ri­ence.

This came about via a phone call from an old school-mate who had sub­scribed to the pub­li­ca­tion to con­nect with his pre-war life. Mik­losh Weiss wanted to thank her for throw­ing food to him over the fence in Auschwitz, Mirac­u­lously, he had a pho­to­graph of both their fa­thers sit­ting to­gether at a school meet­ing. He sent her a copy, which she cher­ished for her re­main­ing years.

The sec­ond of five chil­dren, Edith was born to Shloime Zal­man and Beila Fried in the town of Sá­toral­jaújhely, Hun­gary. Her fa­ther was in the leather busi­ness, and her grand­fa­ther owned sev­eral vine­yards out­side the city. where she and her brother played on sum­mer days. In the mid­dle of the fields there was a hut which be­came a shtiebel, while the work­ers waited for the mid­day heat to sub­side.

In May 1944, the fam­ily were de­ported to Auschwitz where her mother, sis­ters and older brother were sent to the gas cham­bers, while Edith’s fa­ther was cho­sen for labour. They only saw each other twice through a barbed wire fence be­fore he, too was killed.

Edith started work in the Canada sec­tion, sort­ing through plun­dered cloth­ing and pos­ses­sions from ar­rivals. She took ad­van­tage of this po­si­tion to smug­gle bread and scraps to fel­low in­mates, and even threw food over the fence to those who called out for it. Edith also sus­tained the life of her cousin, who was ill and weaker than she was, through her heroic and dan­ger­ous se­cret smug­gling ef­forts.

Hav­ing grown up with a Ger­man nanny, Edith spoke the language per­fectly. This skill en­abled SS of­fi­cers to use her as their mes­sen­ger girl. Af­ter sur­viv­ing a six day death march into Ger­many in Oc­to­ber 1944, aged 15, Edith be­came a slave worker in the Siemens fac­tory.

In May, 1945 she was lib­er­ated by the Swedish Red Cross in the White Bus Mis­sion or­gan­ised by Count Folke Ber­nadotte. The buses were painted white with a red cross to avoid con­fu­sion with mil­i­tary ve­hi­cles un­der Al­lied bomb­ing. Plagued with tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and mal­nu­tri­tion, she was hos­pi­talised at Fagereds Sana­to­rium in Lia, Swe­den, for five years, and later trans­ferred to Eta­nia Sana­to­rium in Davos, Switzer­land, for an­other two years. When she was fi­nally re­leased in June 1952, she moved to Lon­don.

Ea­ger to catch up on her lost ed­u­ca­tion, Edith at­tended the Bais Yaakov Sem­i­nary in Stam­ford Hill. In 1953, she mar­ried Wolly Stim­ler, hav­ing been in­tro­duced by his cousins whom she had met in Switzer­land. With no fam­ily left of her own, his fam­ily be­came hers.

In Auschwitz, she had been gen­er­ous with food when there was none, and she con­tin­ued to feed oth­ers through­out the rest of her life. Un­til five years ago, she reg­u­larly served tea and chat­ted to res­i­dents at Sage, a home for the el­derly.

Edith loved mak­ing peo­ple smile and would bake and dis­trib­ute ap­ple cakes on an in­dus­trial scale be­fore ev­ery fes­ti­val. Ev­ery week she gave them to her grand­chil­dren, neigh­bours, and even to her friends at the lo­cal chemist. She nour­ished ev­ery­one with her spirit, spend­ing hours on the phone coun­selling the vul­ner­a­ble and needy within the com­mu­nity.

She al­ways en­sured her chil­dren had the best Jewish ed­u­ca­tion, to con­tinue her par­ents’ le­gacy. In spite of early tragedy, Edith ra­di­ated pos­i­tiv­ity car­ry­ing her­self re­gally while ex­ud­ing an Old Hol­ly­wood glam­our. She stud­ied elo­cu­tion, de­port­ment and fash­ion de­sign at South Kens­ing­ton’s Lu­cie Clay­ton School of Fash­ion,whose stu­dents in­cluded Joanna Lum­ley and Jean Shrimp­ton.

Edith is sur­vived by her hus­band Wolly Stim­ler, their chil­dren Shloime, Belinda and Her­shy, grand­chil­dren and great grand­chil­dren.


Edith Stim­ler: born Septem­ber 6, 1929. Died Jan­uary 19, 2017

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