‘Hedi was a sparkling presence – elegant, vivacious and very much loved’

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‘Hedi was a sparkling presence – elegant, vivacious and very much loved’

Emotional tributes to survivor Hedi Frankl, who has died aged 93. Four of her siblings and parents were murdered by the Nazis.

Jack Mendel is the Online Editor at the Jewish News.

Hedi Frenkl (Credit: The Association of Jewish Refugees via the Claims Conference. Photographer: Paul Lang)
Hedi Frenkl (Credit: The Association of Jewish Refugees via the Claims Conference. Photographer: Paul Lang)

Heartfelt tributes have been paid to Holocaust survivor, social worker, matchmaker and author Hedi Frankl, who has passed away aged 93.

Born in May 1927, she was just 16 when Nazi Germany occupied her home town of Balassagyarmat, northern Hungary, in 1944.

Her remarkable escape from the Holocaust began when her mother managed to arrange false identity papers, as Hedi became Borishka Kovacs, and was sent to live with a Christian family.

But after only a few weeks she was betrayed, arrested and handed over to the Gestapo, who deported her on a harrowing five-day journey on a cattle wagon to a transit camp in Strasbourg.

Between 1944 and 1945 Hedi undertook forced labour at the Siemens Electronic Company, where she became friends with a 19-year-old girl called Alice Hersch, who shared food and warm clothes with her.

She was spared from a Nazi death march at the end of the Holocaust after Herr Meier, a foreman at the factory, took pity and hid them both in his Vienna home until the end of the war.

After liberation she was reunited with one of her brothers. They were helped by an uncle who had escaped Nazi-occupied Europe to come to the UK in 1947. According to the Claims Conference, which financially supported her, Hedi’s four other siblings and parents were murdered in Auschwitz.

She married in 1949 and divorced later in life, having one daughter who lives in Jerusalem, Israel, with grandsons in New York and Amsterdam.

Her funeral takes place on Friday at 12.30pm and will be streamed on Zoom.

During a long and varied career she was a social worker for the Jewish Welfare Board, which became Jewish Care, and opened an embroidery factory in East London.

Hedi Frankl (Adam Soller photography)

She also set up The Hedi Fisher Marriage Bureau in 1969, which operated for 25 years, and led to her becoming a non-fiction writer, publishing her book, ‘Matchmaker, Matchmaker”.

Rachelle Lazarus, Manager of Jewish Care’s Holocaust Survivors’ Centre, said: “Hedi was one of the first members of Jewish Holocaust Survivors’ Centre, more than 30 years ago.

She took great pleasure in meeting members of the Royal Family including Prince Phillip at St James Palace, Prince William at Jewish Care’s Campaign Dinner in 2015 and The Duchess of Cambridge on her visit to the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre in 2016.

Hedi with HRH Prince William at Jewish Care’s campaign dinner in 2015 (Blake Ezra Photography)

“She was an extremely determined and independent person and she was always elegant. She was very much involved with the Holocaust Survivors’ Centre and enjoyed her time there. She will be missed by everyone.”

Speaking at the centre last year, Hedi said, “The past must not be forgotten. Make the best of your life, it’s not a rehearsal so give it your best and have a positive attitude.”

Michael Newman, chief executive of the Association of Jewish Refugees, (AJR) said: “Hedi was a popular presence at our events, someone who lightened the atmosphere with her sparkling character and friendly personality. With her experiences captured for posterity and future study, she will be greatly missed but will be remembered fondly.”

The Holocaust Educational Trust’s Karen Pollock, said: “We are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Holocaust survivor Hedi Frankl. A vivacious woman with such presence, she will be deeply missed by all those who had the pleasure of knowing her”.

Frankl joined Natasha Kaplinsky on stage at Jewish News’ Night of Heroes’ in February 2018, when the TV presenter was honoured with a Special Recognition Award, for her work on Holocaust education. Kaplinsky was awarded an OBE for her services to Holocaust commemoration.

Natasha Kaplinsky presented with her award by two of the survivors to whom she has become close since the beginning of the testimony project — Peter Lantos and Hedi Frankl. Host David Walliams is on the left.
Credit: Blake Ezra


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