Lili Stern-Pohlmann, survivor of the Holocaust who was sheltered by a kind German woman and a Greek Catholic prelate obituary –

Posted By on October 2, 2021

Lili Stern-Pohlmann, who has died in London aged 91, was a Holocaust survivor rescued by a German civil servant during the Second World War and later brought to Britain, where she devoted her life to educating people about the death camps.

In the summer of 1939, her family, the Sterns, were on holiday in Poronin, near Zakopane, Poland. But, as war was imminent, they cut the holiday short and returned home to Krakow. On August 31 1939, Lilis father, Filip, put his wife Cecylia, Lili, and her little brother, Uriel, on a train to Lvov (now Lviv, Ukraine), where Lilis grandparents lived; Filip stayed behind to join them later. It was the last train to depart Krakow for Lvov before war broke out the next day. On September 22 1939 Lvov capitulated to the Red Army.

German forces regained the city on June 29 1941, and by early November they had set up a ghetto, where, like other Jews, the Sterns were forced to move. The ghetto was a dreadful place. Conditions were cramped and unhygienic. And only those with special permission were allowed to go in and out.

In March 1942, the Germans began to deport Jews to Belzec, a complex of concentration and extermination camps. With the danger growing, Lilis father decided it was time to go into hiding.

Lili and her mother would conceal themselves in a shop, and Filip who worked for the Germans as a carpenter and had the documents to prove it would keep young Uriel with him. The arrangement was that Filip would pass by the shop at an agreed time so that Cecylia knew her husband and son were safe. On the first day Filip signalled that he was all right, but on the second day he failed to appear; later, it emerged that he had been arrested.

Cecylia was an accomplished dress designer, and was in high demand even during the war. When it emerged that the Germans were planning to seal off the ghetto, locking all Jews inside, she got in touch with a former customer a German woman, Frau Wieth urging her to take Lili and hide her. Eventually Frau Wieth agreed and sheltered Lili in her apartment; Cecylia returned to the ghetto.

Irmgard Wieth was a kind, eccentric woman attached to the Nazi occupying forces in Lvov. Her apartment had very few visitors because, as Lili recalled, she devoured so much garlic that the smell meant nobody wanted to associate with her.

On May 31 1943, Lili, still in hiding, could see an unnatural redness in the sky coming from the direction of the ghetto. Soon afterwards her mother burst in, completely beside herself, saying: The ghetto is burning, I escaped at the last minute. The Germans liquidated the ghetto.

Frau Wieth agreed to shelter Cecylia too; by then, in addition to Lili, she was also hiding a Jewish couple the Podoszyns. The four of us slept on the kitchen floor, Lili recalled. As both my mother and Mrs Podoszyn did not look or behave in a Jewish manner they decided that mother was going to be the dressmaker, and Mrs Podoszyn the maid and cook. Mr Podoszyn and I would hide in the scullery and the two of them would be in the kitchen openly. And thats how we were.

For young Lili, however, life in hiding was hard to bear. While Irmgard Wieth would go to work and return at 6pm, We had to sit and not move the whole day long. No toilet, nothing. Frau Wieths apartment was in an area specifically designated for SS forces and the head of the Ukrainian police was living immediately underneath.

In the summer of 1944, as the Soviet army approached, the Germans began to flee Lvov. Irmgard Wieth secured a refuge for Lili and her mother with Andrey Sheptytsky, the Metropolitan Archbishop of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, who hid them in his residence.

After a few days, the pair both were sent to a convent in Ubocze, a village in South-Western Poland. The superior of the order, sister Josifa (Olena Witer), kept Cecylia with her, while Lili was placed in an orphanage among Polish and Ukrainian children. They remained safe until Russian forces arrived.

In 1968, Irmgard Wieth was made a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israels official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust.

Lili Stern was born on March 29 1930 in Lvov. Her parents had wanted to emigrate to Palestine, then under British Mandate, but due to a knee injury Lilis father was unable to do physical agricultural work, and thus could not obtain a visa; instead he became a bank manager in Krakow.

The Sterns lived in Kazimierz, the Jewish quarter, where Lili attended a Jewish kindergarten before moving to a Catholic primary school. A vivacious, independent child, she loved playing in the main park in Krakow with her brother Uriel, riding scooters, climbing trees, and eating freshly baked bread and sausages with her father. This happy childhood, however, ended abruptly when war came.

After the war, Lili was one of 123 Jewish children brought to Britain on the Swedish SS Ragne, under a programme led by the Rabbi Solomon Schonfeld.

She arrived in Britain on her 16th birthday March 29 1946. What a birthday present! she later recalled. It was like a fairy-tale, and when Tower Bridge opened up in front of us, what a sight! And when we docked there was a barrage of photographers and press This was the end of March and, of course, the weather was not marvellous, but for us the sun was shining all the time, all the time.

A year later, her mother Cecylia joined her, but as it turned out they were the only family members to have survived the war; her brother Uriel and father Filip had perished.

A passionate public speaker, Lili devoted her life after the war to telling the story of the Holocaust. She admitted that it was an extremely painful subject, but explained: If we, the last generation, dont talk about it, then thats it. I owe it to posterity. To talk of what happened to me and my family This thing did happen. When one reads about Holocaust denial, isnt it our duty to give witness? After us there are no witnesses, there is only the written word.

In 2007, she received one of Polands highest accolades, the Commanders Cross of Polonia Restituta,, and in 2020 was appointed MBE for services to Holocaust education, awareness, and human relations.

She was married to the Austrian actor Eric Pohlmann until his death in 1979, then to the literary agent, Peter Janson-Smith, who also predeceased her.

Lili Stern-Pohlmann is survived by her daughter Karen.

Lili Stern-Pohlmann, bornMarch 29 1930, died September 15 2021

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Lili Stern-Pohlmann, survivor of the Holocaust who was sheltered by a kind German woman and a Greek Catholic prelate obituary -

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