Lily Liebman's Legacy for the Future of the Jewish People
Lily H. Liebman was a private and humble woman. She generally gave no indication of her wealth or of the traumatic experiences she endured as a teenager in Nazi-occupied Austria. She did, however, spend a great deal of time helping others, giving back to her community, and supporting the land and people of Israel. In November 2015, Lily passed away, but her legacy lives on with the more than $7million bequest she left to Jewish National Fund in her will.
Lily was just 17-years-old in 1938 when Hitler came to power following the Anschluss"the unification of Germany and Austria"and her life in Vienna was changed forever. While Lily, her sister Anne, and her parents were fortunate that no one came pounding on their door the evening of Kristallnacht, three of her uncles were not as lucky. The day after all the destruction, the family found out that her mother's brother, brother-in-law, and uncle were among those rounded up and sent to the Buchenwald Nazi concentration camp. Her father was able to secure visas and passage to China for two of Lily's uncles, but her mother's brother didn't survive the camp.
Soon after Kristallnacht, Lily and her sister went to the American embassy in Vienna and began looking through the telephone books of New York City and Brooklyn, writing down the contact information for all the Hamermanns, their family name, they could find. They sent over 150 letters to strangers who shared their family name, asking for affidavits so they could make their way to America. Hope came in the form of a young man from Cincinnati. His parents forwarded Lily and Anne's letter to him and he in turn shared their letter with the family he was renting a room from. The mother of the family, a complete stranger to these girls, decided to send them an affidavit. Anne arrived to Cincinnati in 1939, Lily in 1940, and their parents made it out on one of the last ships permitted to leave Nazi-occupied Europe, and arrived in America in 1941.
It was in Cincinnati that Lily and her family rebuilt their lives, starting from practically nothing. Lily's parents started a wholesale clothing distribution company, similar to the one they had back in Vienna. After she married her husband, Eric, the couple worked at the family store and later on took over the business from Lily's parents. Lily volunteered her time helping immigrants from German-speaking countries with their pension applications, while Eric worked with the Munich "Sister City" Association of Greater Cincinnati.
Throughout her life, Lily purchased many trees for Israel and established charitable gift annuities with JNF. The ultimate and most significant show of her support was the bequest she left to JNF in her will. Lily understood and recognized the importance of Israel as the homeland and the only safe haven for Jewish people everywhere. When it came time to plan for where her and Eric's legacy would be left, Lily immediately thought of Jewish National Fund and its invaluable work in continuing to safeguard our eternal homeland and to ensure that it thrives for generations to come.