On the eve of Yom Kippur, I discovered the sad news that Lili Stern-Pohlmann MBE had passed away. Since interviewing her for the AJR Refugee Voices Archive in 2016, I kept in regular touch with Lili and was privileged to invite her to speak to me at the HMD event of South Hampstead Synagogue. She was a force of nature who impressed everyone with her remarkable story of survival and I will truly miss her.
What was remarkable about Lili was that she really did not want to talk about her own story but her mission was to tell the story of the Polish Gentiles who saved Jews, including Archbishop Andrey Count Sheptytsky, who hid Lili and her mother in one of his monasteries, Olena Witer, Mother Superior of the convent where Lili and her mother hid and Irena Sandler, who saved the lives of a large number of Jewish children.
But when Lili started telling you her story of growing up in her beloved city of Krakow with her parents and her brother Uriel, her escape from Krakow to Lvov at the end of August 1939, and her war-time experiences in the Lvov Ghetto and hidden in the apartment of a German Civil Cervant, Irmgard Wieth (who in 1958 was recognised as Righteous Among the Nations for her actions), and her arrival in Britain on the 29th March 1946 through the efforts of Rabbi Dr Solomon Schonfeld, there was no stopping her.
I think Lili’s interview is probably one of the longest one in the AJR Refugee Voices Archive, it lasted almost seven hours and we spent two memorable days with Lili. Over these two days she showed us wonderful hospitality and made us stop filming in the middle of the day, so that we could watch Judge Rinder together on television, who was the grandson of a fellow survivor and friend. At the time, I was worried about not finishing Lili’s interview on the day but today I see this in a different light.
Despite Lili’s incredible efforts in telling the stories of the Righteous Gentiles and her war-time past, she was firmly rooted in the present. She wanted to be in touch with young people and she was looking forward to attending the premier of the new James Bond film in the Victoria Albert Hall (which was sadly postponed due to Covid-19).
For HMD 2021, Lili’s Refugee Voices testimony appeared in my film VOICES FOR A BETTER WORLD and in the special Hackney HMD event.
I am sad that because of Covid-19 I had not have the opportunity to see Lili in person in the last eighteen months. I will miss my (long) phone conversations with her, which were full of warmth, humor and interest.
Thank you Lili for entrusting us with your extraordinary testimony. I will do my best to ensure that your legacy will live on and that through your testimony we can continue to inspire younger generations.
Dr Bea Lewkowicz
Director, AJR Refugee Voices Archive
Read an extract from Lili's testimony about her escape from the Lvov Ghetto in a feature from the AJR Journal here: