Tuesday, July 14, 2009
My mother died a few weeks ago. She was 96, so she had a good innings (as she would put it - in fact as she did put it - in cricket language). She was born in London in 1913: a year before the outbreak of the First World War. Her life spanned a lot of history. She was born into an essentially Victorian world, and witnessed catastrophic world wars, miraculous developments in technology, and all the deeply equivocal social, political, and demographic developments of the twentieth century.
Immediately after the Second World War, having survived the London Blitz, she volunteered for a British Army unit that was recruited to care for concentration camp survivors in the British occupation zone in Germany. That was how she met my father: he had recently been ordained as a rabbi in Cincinnati and, being German born, had been sent to Germany by the World Union for Progressive Judaism with commissions in the Allied occupying armies (including, notionally, and absurdly, the Soviet Army). The World Union and its Anglo-Jewish founders had been part of my mother's growing up in London. So my parents met; and the rest was, perhaps not history, but certainly, well, me.
A local Jewish newspaper - in St Louis, where my parents eventually settled - asked me to draft an obit for my mother. Beneath the fold, here is the obit. Aleha ha-shalom.
Lily Schwarzschild, a member of the Jewish Relief Unit set up by the British Army at the end of World War II to care for survivors of the concentration camps, and a long-time St Louis resident, has died at Laclede Groves in St Louis. She was 96.
Lily Rose Schwarzschild was born in London in 1913. As a teen-ager, she joined the West Central Jewish Girl’s Club, founded by Lily Montagu, the Anglo-Jewish aristocrat and social reformer. The Montagu Club gave Lily Rose her first exposure to ballet and modern dance, which became lifelong interests.
She worked for many years for Marks & Spencer, the British retail chain, for whom she was a buyer throughout World War II. Like most wartime Londoners, she had several near-misses with German bombs during the Blitz.
At the end of World War II, the British Army created the Jewish Relief Unit to care for survivors of concentration camps liberated in the British zone of occupation in Germany, including Belsen. Lily Rose volunteered to join, and was personally given leave from Marks & Spencer by Sir Simon Marks. She served for four years in post-war Germany, helping to organise medical care, food, and shelter for Displaced Persons, as the survivors were known. She founded a kindergarten for DP children, helped to organise emigration opportunities, and succeeded in reuniting family members who had been separated in the Nazi camps.
In Germany she met Steven Schwarzschild, a young German-born rabbi who had emigrated from Berlin in 1939 and was ordained at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. Steven Schwarzschild went to Germany in 1948 as a rabbi sponsored by the World Union for Progressive Judaism, whose founder and president was Lily Schwarzschild’s childhood mentor Lily Montagu.
They married in 1949, and settled in the US in 1950. She was a dance teacher and rabbi’s wife in Fargo, North Dakota and in Marblehead, Massachusetts. In 1965 Steven Schwarzschild became the first Professor of Judaic Studies and Philosophy at Washington University in St Louis, and the couple made their home in University City. Steven Schwarzschild died in 1989.
Lily Schwarzschild was active in the Washington University Women’s Club, where she founded an English Tea Shop. She taught dance and exercise classes into her late eighties. She is survived by a son, Maimon, of San Diego, California, and several nephews and nieces in England.