Hedy Epstein: Holocaust Survivor, Passionate Fighter Against Israel’s Crimes

May 30, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


From a reader:

Hedy Epstein joined the Gaza Freedom March in 2009
In 2009, in the aftermath of a months-long Israeli slaughter of the Palestinian people in Gaza, Hedy Epstein (above center, with pink scarf) joined the Gaza Freedom March. (AP photo)

On May 26, Hedy Epstein passed away at age 91. Hedy was a Jewish Holocaust survivor who embodied the spirit of those who saw the lesson of the Holocaust NOT as: whatever needs to be done to preserve MY people is OK, no matter who we oppress, but instead that great crimes against humanity must never happen to ANY people. And as such, she stood literally shoulder-to-shoulder with the Palestinian people in their struggle against Zionism, and with struggles against oppression throughout this country and around the world.

Hedy was a kindergarten student in Germany when Hitler’s fascists began the genocide against the Jews with a violent fascist riot known as the Kristallnacht. Hedy was expelled from school. Her parents were unable to escape to the United States, which had a policy of refusing to grant asylum to victims of Hitler’s racist terror. And, as Hedy said in an interview with an Israeli newspaper in 2014, they did not want to be part of what is now Israel because “They did not wish to live in a country that was run by Jews and for Jews only.”

Hedy’s parents were able to get her to England, but both of them were trapped in Germany and died in the notorious Auschwitz concentration camp, along with almost all her relatives.

Hedy grew up in England, and later moved to the U.S., where she became an active opponent of the Vietnam War. As she came to be familiar with the oppression of Black people in the U.S., she made connections between the way the Nazis had made outcasts of the Jews, and how the U.S. treated Black people.

After Israel orchestrated massacres of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982, Hedy became increasingly passionate and committed to supporting the Palestinian people’s struggle. Beginning in 2003, she traveled several times to the West Bank with the International Solidarity Movement. In Israel, she was tear-gassed by police while demonstrating against the Israeli occupation and suffered damage to her hearing when sound bombs went off.

In 2009, in the aftermath of a months-long Israeli slaughter of the Palestinian people in Gaza, Hedy joined the Gaza Freedom March. This was an attempt to go beyond efforts to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza, and to physically break the blockade on land by marching across the border from Egypt into Gaza. Under direct instructions from the U.S. Embassy in Cairo to the Mubarak regime that ruled Egypt, the Gaza Freedom Marchers were prevented from getting to the Egypt-Gaza border crossing, and repeatedly and violently attacked by Egyptian police. Hedy was on the front lines of protests in Cairo—a tiny, frail, but fearless fighter. She led a group of protesters who declared a hunger strike in Cairo, demanding the authorities allow the Freedom March to get to the border. When Egyptian authorities shut down transportation to the border, the Gaza Freedom March took place in the streets of Cairo just outside Tahrir Square.

90-year-old Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein—an activist in resisting Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people—was arrested with eight others in St. Louis in August 2014. She was opposing the deployment of the Missouri National Guard to suppress protests demanding justice for Michael Brown – a Black man murdered by police in nearby Ferguson, Missouri. Photo: Steven Hsieh

When Black youth and others rose up in fierce rebellion in Ferguson, Missouri, after the police murder of Michael Brown, Hedy joined a sit-in outside the office of Missouri governor Jay Nixon in her home town of St. Louis. The sit-in demanded an end to police repression of the uprising, and protested the governor’s decision to deploy the National Guard to further clamp down on protest. At age 90, Hedy Epstein was handcuffed, taken to a nearby substation and charged with “failure to disperse.”

Hedy was an unassuming person who didn’t see the struggle against oppression as being about her, or that her experience as a Holocaust survivor in-and-of-itself imbued her with some special privilege—despite the terrible personal loss and sacrifice that had meant for her and her family. But in a world where the grossest, most obscene and unjust oppression is “justified” by invoking the Holocaust, she didn’t hesitate to invoke whatever “right to speak” is associated with being a Holocaust survivor to speak out, and put her body on the line, against ALL injustice, including Israel’s crimes—backed by the U.S.—against the Palestinian people.



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