June 21, 2009 at 7:54 pm
Guest speaker hurt in assault
An “inspirational” speaker for 15 years at the Missouri Scholars Academy was attacked this week after visiting the Columbia camp.
Hedy Epstein, an 84-year-old Holocaust survivor, was walking to her home from a Metrolink station in St. Louis on Wednesday when someone pushed her hard from behind. She fell to the ground and lay in a state of shock, bleeding profusely from her chin.
The attack occurred so quickly, Epstein said, that she thought she saw a man running but can’t remember what he looked like. She forced herself to get home and called a friend when the bleeding would not stop. At the hospital, doctors determined an artery had been nicked.
The attack might not have been random.
Epstein is part of a movement opposed to Israel’s treatment of Gaza and has received threatening messages.
After she gave a television interview earlier this year, someone left a phone message telling Epstein she should be ashamed of herself. In the message, the caller threatened to visit St. Louis and “give you a piece of my mind and spit on your ugly face. … We will find a way to deal with protesters of your type.”
Epstein has since given the transcribed message to police.
On Thursday, Epstein said she received an e-mail from someone asking whether she is trying to help free the Israeli soldier abducted by Palestinians more than two years ago. “Is there a connection” between the attack and e-mail? she asked. “It’s not obvious, but there might be.”
Her injuries have forced Epstein to cancel a planned trip to Gaza this month, but she’s planning another trip there in August. She said she won’t let the threats or her attack stop her.
After all, Epstein has experienced worse.
She was 8 when Adolf Hitler came to power while she and her family were living in Germany. Five years later, Epstein was taken to England with 500 other Jewish children.
From a foster home, she continued to correspond with her parents until 1942, when she received back-to-back letters from them. Though written separately, both her father and mother told her they were going to an “undisclosed location” and that it would be a long time before she would hear from them again.
Years later, Epstein found out what they meant: Both had been sent to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland. “I didn’t know that at the time,” she said. “So when my parents said it may be a long time, I wanted to know how long. I wanted so much to be reunited.”
Hearing that story during the Missouri Scholars Academy this week hit home for Grace Sparapani, a scholar from Nixa. “I can’t imagine not seeing your parents again,” she said. “It really made me appreciate mine more.”
Epstein is “absolutely amazing,” Grace added. “I can’t even imagine how much courage it takes to talk about that … What she’s doing is really brave.”
The scholars made a “Get Well” card to send to Epstein, said Chris Young, a spokesman for the camp. “Hedy’s a very inspiring individual,” he said. “The scholars wanted to do something to show her that they care for her.”
The attack might have caused her body to bruise, but it did little to injure her spirit. She said she’s as determined as ever to continue opposition efforts against the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians in Gaza.
“I know what it means to be discriminated against and to suffer,” she said. “I care profoundly about issues of justice and fairness and peace. And I care about people ~ not just Jewish people. I care about everybody.”