Margit Morawetz Meissner’s Story

I have just finished reading “Margit’s Story”, the autobiography of Margit Meissner, a remarkable woman and friend of ours. Published in 2003, and for sale among other places at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where Margit acts as a docent, the book tells in remarkably clear, readable style and with apparent objectivity, her fascinating, and often harrowing life story.

Born Margit Morawetz in 1922 in Innsbruck, Austria and raised largely in Prague, her mother came from a very wealthy family and her father was a very successful banker, allowing the Morawetz family to live in style and luxury, to travel widely and to meet some of Europe’s most cultured artists, musicians and families.

All this came to a change first slowly and then abruptly as Hitler first invaded Austria ending the family’s summer use of its home in Alt Aussee, and then as the Germans entered Prague. In Paris at the time, Margit and her mother escaped through France, across the Pyrenees, through Spain, into Portugal and eventually to America. In these two sentences, I have unmercifully shortened the courage, the adventures and the luck that they found along the way, even as others of their family were escaping to Australia, to Canada, to England, and not at all.

Arriving in America, first finding work in New York and then in California, Margit married for the first time (unsuccessfully and against the advice of her friends and family) and found herself back in Europe after the war, working with children in Germany and elsewhere, and eventually spending time in Alexandria (Egypt) and Israel, before returning to California. She was only about 30.

She remarried Frank Meissner, who became a business man, and Margit had two children, continued work she had done as a dressmaker and dress designer in a number of settings, and began working with children with disabilities as the result of some physical problems and learning disabilities of her own children. They lived in Buenas Aires for a time, and she eventually moved to Washington DC, where they lived for many years in Bethesda, and Margit became very active in matters at her local schools and throughout Montgomery County, while her husband worked at the InterAmerican Development Bank.

Throughout all of this, Margit, with a great linguistic facility that can only put most of us to shame, learned German, Czech, Hungarian, Russian, French, Spanish, English and Portuguese, speaking most of them fluently and without a noticeable accent. She proved to be extraordinarily handy with needle and thread and related equipment, as a seamstress, designer, business owner and manager, and instructor. She proved herself able to organize not for profit organizations concerned with education and special needs students. She kept up innumerable friendships; she traveled everywhere (her siblings lived in Canada, Ibiza and Australia, with second homes scattered throughout Europe), and the last time I saw her, a couple of months ago, she was, now a widow from her third husband, at age 86, about to go on a trip to Bhutan.

We trust she got back safely and enjoyed the trip. I must call her up and make sure.

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