- Holocaust survivor and anti-Israel activist
- Affiliated with the International Solidarity Movement, Women in Black, and the American Friends Service Committee
Hedy Epstein was born to Jewish parents on August 15, 1924 in Freiburg, Germany and was raised in nearby Kippenheim. After Adolf Hitler came to power on January 30, 1933, Epstein's parents tried for years to leave Germany as a family but were unsuccessful due to emigration restrictions in numerous countries around the world. Finally, the parents found a way to send Hedy to England via the Children's Transport, which ferried nearly 10,000 youngsters to safety between December 1938 and the beginning of World War II in September 1939. Epstein never again saw her parents, who died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz.
Once WWII was over, Epstein returned to Germany to work for the American government's Civil Censorship Division. Later she worked at the Nuremberg Medical Trial, which adjudicated the cases of doctors who allegedly had performed barbaric medical experiments on concentration-camp inmates. In May 1948 Epstein immigrated to the United States (first New York City, then Minneapolis, and then St. Louis), where she went on to become an activist for such causes as fair housing, abortion rights, and the antiwar movement.
Epstein became active in anti-Israel activities in 2001, when she founded a St. Louis chapter of Women in Black, an organization whose members hold weekly public vigils where, attired in black clothing, they silently protest the deaths of those Palestinians who have lost their lives as a result of Israel's allegedly brutal occupation of the West Bank and (previously) Gaza.
Around this time, Epstein became affiliated with the American Friends Service Committee. In 2003 she traveled to the West Bank to work with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). The following year, she returned to the West Bank with a group called Women of a Certain Age, again to demonstrate against Israeli policies vis a vis the Palestinians. In the fall of 2004, Epstein became a lecturer with the Wheels of Justice Tour, which was sponsored by ISM, the Middle East Children's Alliance, and other self-identified "peace groups."
Between 2003 and 2010, Epstein visited the West Bank five times in order to "witness the facts [of Israeli oppression] on the ground." She also participated in several demonstrations opposing:
- Israel's "occupation" of Palestinian land;
- Israel's construction of "the 25-foot high cement wall" -- a reference to the barrier that Israel erected as a means of stopping the epidemic of terrorist attacks that were being launched from the West Bank; and
- Israel's "demolition of Palestinian homes and olive orchards" -- a reference to Israeli Defense Force measures taken against the residences and munitions facilities of Palestinian terrorists.
Epstein has spoken about Israel's alleged wrongdoings to audiences of schoolchildren, college students, and adults in the U.S., Germany, and Austria. She was formerly a member of the Speakers Bureau of the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center (HMLC). But after she began working with ISM, the HMLC firmly distanced itself from Epstein, underscoring the fact that it no longer supported her activities and positions.
In her public speeches, Epstein contends that the Jewish state has taken on the Nazi role in its conflict with the Palestinians, and that the latter are innocent victims who suffer today in a manner reminiscent of how the Jews suffered in Hitler's Germany. "I feel anger," said Epstein on one occasion. "I feel that those [Jews] who were persecuted and their descendants have become the persecutors. It seems that is the lesson they have learned from the Holocaust."
Epstein commonly likens present-day anti-Israel demonstrations to the anti-war and civil-rights demonstrations that took place in the U.S. during the 1960s and 70s. For example:
- "[At a demonstration against the anti-terrorism separation wall], I saw Israeli soldiers aiming at unarmed Israeli and international protesters. I saw blood pouring out of Gil Na'amati, a young Israeli whose first public act after completing his military service was to protest against this wall.... And I thought of Kent State and Jackson State, where National Guardsmen opened fire in 1970 on protesters against the Vietnam War."
"Near Der Beilut, I saw the Israeli police turn a water cannon on our nonviolent protest. And I remembered Birmingham, Alabama in 1963 and wondered why a democratic society responds to peaceable assembly by trying literally to drown out the voice of our protest."
In August 2008, Epstein was slated to be one of the passengers aboard a Free Gaza Movement ship that would attempt to break Israel's naval "blockade" of Gaza, but she had to cancel her participation due to poor health.
In 2010, Epstein boarded a subsequent Free Gaza Movement ship intent on challenging the Israeli blockade again, but ultimately decided not to take part in the venture. The following year, she planned to participate in a Free Gaza flotilla scheduled for late June of 2011.
Epstein died on May 26, 2016.
Limited portions of this profile are adapted, with permission, from Stand4Facts.org.