Holocaust Survivor and Advocate for Human Rights, Hedy Epstein, Dies at 91

Hedy Epstein - holocaust survivor and human rights activist dies at 91. (Photo: Via Mondoweiss)

Activist for Palestinian rights and holocaust survivor, Hedy Epstein, died on Thursday, at her home in Missouri, USA, at the age of 91.

An internationally renowned, respected and admired advocate for human and civil rights, Epstein was encircled by friends who lovingly cared for her at home during her final moments.

Born August 15, 1924, in the Baden-Württemberg region of Germany, Epstein’s lifelong commitment to justice was formed by the horrific experiences endured by her and her family under the repressive Nazi regime.

In explaining her role as an activist, Epstein told The Nation, “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager … We need to stand up today so that people won’t have to do this when they’re 90”. This was in response to her arrest three days after her 90th birthday, for “failure to disperse”. She was attempting to enter Missouri Governor Jay Nixon’s St. Louis office to ask for de-escalation of police and National Guard tactics which turned violent in response to protests following the killing of unarmed teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

Hedy was particularly committed to advocating for Palestinians living under Israeli oppression. She traveled to the West Bank and attempted several times to sail to Gaza in recent years to protest Israel’s blockade of the area.

Epstein was born in the Bavarian region of Germany in 1924 as Hedy Wachenheimer. At the age of 14 she was sent to England by her parents, to escape the rule of Adolf Hitler, according to Epstein’s personal webpage. However, most of her Jewish family, including her parents, did not survive the Holocaust.

Epstein immigrated to the United States in 1948. She and her husband moved to St. Louis in the early 1960s, and shortly thereafter she began working as a volunteer with the Freedom of Residence, an organization demanding fair housing laws and an end to segregation. In the 1970s, she became executive director of the group’s St. Louis chapter.

Epstein’s advocacy for human rights was boundless. During the 1980s, she worked as a paralegal for a law firm that represented individuals in employment discrimination cases. She further spoke out against the Vietnam War, the bombing of Cambodia, and overly restrictive U.S. immigration policies. She spoke and acted in support of the Haitian boat people and women’s reproductive rights. Following the 1982 massacre at Sabra and Shatila, Epstein began her courageous and visionary work for peace and justice in Israel and Palestine.

Epstein often spoke to young people about her life through the Missouri Scholars Academy. She ended each talk with the same advice: “Remember the past, don’t hate, and don’t be a bystander”.


Through the years, Epstein received numerous awards and honors for her compassionate service and relentless pursuit of justice.

She is survived by son Howard (Terry) Epstein, and granddaughters Courtney and Kelly.

Her words of wisdom are imprinted in the annals of history: “If we don’t try to make a difference, if we don’t speak up, if we don’t try to right the wrong that we see, we become complicit. I don’t want to be guilty of not trying my best to make a difference”.


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1 Comment

  1. Doubtless this wonderful woman could have enjoyed a quiet life in America after she moved there. However, such was her hatred of injustice and inhumanity that she devoted her talents and energies to the Palestinian cause. She knew that her contribution as a holocaust survivor would carry particular weight and hers was a consistent and steadfast voice through the years. We in Belfast had the privilege of meeting Hedy when she toured Ireland some years ago. She will live forever in our hearts. We would like to offer her family our condolences on their (and our) sad loss.

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