- In Memoriam:Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell
The editors and staff of Holocaust and Genocide Studies were deeply saddened to learn of the passing in August of Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell, a respected Holocaust scholar and founder of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, in Dordogne, France. She was 92.
Maxwell was born Elisabeth Jenny Jeanne Meynard on March 11, 1921, near St.-Alban-de-Roche, France. Between 1939 and 1941, she studied in England and at the Sorbonne in Paris. The Second World War cut short her education and she began teaching primary school. After the liberation of Paris, she served as a volunteer interpreter for the “Welcome Committee” assisting Allied officers arriving in the city. There she met her future husband, Robert Maxwell (née Jan Ludvik Hyman Binyamin Hoch), a British Army intelligence officer born in Czechoslovakia to Orthodox Jewish parents. He had escaped from the Nazi occupation to join the Czech army in exile, and then fought for the British.
Elisabeth worked in public relations for her husband’s growing publishing enterprises during the 1960s. She led his campaign for a seat in the British Parliament, where he served as a Labour M.P. from 1964 to 1970.
Elisabeth decided to go back to school and get the full education that she had missed earlier in life. She enrolled at the University of Oxford in 1970 and graduated with her B.A. in modern languages. From there, she pursued her Ph.D. and earned her degree in 1981, at the age of 60, with her thesis “The Art of Letter Writing, 1789–1830.” The dissertation was written using research on the lineage of her aristocratic French Protestant family.
Maxwell went on to create a record of both her and her husband’s families for her children. Early in her relationship with her husband, she learned about his Jewish heritage. Robert had lost 300 members of his family, including his mother, brother, and three sisters. He didn’t enjoy speaking about this part of his past, but he was a strong supporter of Jewish programs and the state of Israel. He credited Elisabeth with his reconnection to his roots.
Uncovering the full extent of her husband’s loss during the Holocaust motivated Elisabeth to keep learning as much as she could about the subject. Her main research interest was Christian-Jewish relations in the wake of the Holocaust. After receiving her doctorate, she traveled widely, giving lectures and organizing and attending international scholarly conferences. In 1987, she founded Holocaust and Genocide Studies with the support of her husband, one of whose companies, Pergamon Press, published the journal for its first six years. One year later, she established a Holocaust education organization called Remembering for the Future, which she directed for twelve years. Maxwell also served as vice president of the International Council of Christians and Jews. She was co-editor with John K. Roth of a three-volume work entitled Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in the Age of Genocides, a collection of 170 essays by participants at an interfaith conference hosted by her organization. [End Page 563]
Elisabeth Maxwell’s life changed suddenly and dramatically in 1991 when her husband died under mysterious circumstances and his publishing empire went bankrupt. Nonetheless, she kept up her commitment to scholarly study of the Holocaust.
Maxwell is survived by four daughters, three sons, and 13 grandchildren. [End Page 564]