Heroic Auschwitz survivor who risked personal danger smuggling bread to starving inmates
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.
MICHELLE STIMLER MORRIS
Edith Stimler: born September 6, 1929. Died January 19, 2017