Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell, a great friend of Jews and of Israel, passed away a few
days ago, in France. The story of her husband, Robert Maxwell, herself, and her
nine children, seven of whom survived childhood, is a very unusual
Robert Maxwell’s real name was Ludwa (Ludwig) Hoch.
the son of an unemployed Jewish agricultural laborer in a small village in the
Carpatho-Ukraine. Elisabeth was the daughter of an aristocratic Huguenot family
in France. They met after the liberation of France.
Bob Maxwell, a
millionaire businessman in the publication and newspaper business, a British
Labor MP, most probably an aide to Mossad enterprises concerning the Soviet
Union, authorized an autobiography that told part of his story, and invented
another part. His real story was that of a talented child, taught by his mother
to read and write, a student at a yeshiva in Topolciany in Slovakia, who fled
from there at an early age.
He made his way to Budapest, where he
subsisted by stealing food in the market, was caught, imprisoned, fled, and
escaped to Belgrade.
World War II had broken out, and he was now a
Czechoslovak refugee wanting to serve in the Czech forces in the West. He
organized a group of Czech officers, and went with them to Haifa, and from there
to France. He joined the Czech forces-in-exile, but the French defeat made him
run for his life to Bordeaux, where he boarded a ship with Allied soldiers, and
landed in Liverpool.
He was sent to be ground crew in the Czech Air Force
in Scotland, where he was Ian Jones. He chatted up a British nurse, who enabled
him to approach the hospitalized commander of a famous British regiment, whom he
begged to accept him, a non- Britisher, into his unit. He succeeded, and landed
in Normandy, with the rank of a corporal.
His commanding officers were
all killed, and he took command of a unit that overran superior German forces
near the beach. He then approached his commander and asked to be given a
military medal, and a promotion to officer rank – typical Maxwell
He certainly deserved his Military Cross, and he advanced
quickly, ending the war as a major. His brazenness, courage and capacity to talk
people into things they never intended to do served him well. In Paris, he
married Elisabeth Maynard.
He knew or acquired a number of languages, but
never forgot his native Yiddish. His English was pure Oxford, his French pure
Paris, his Hungarian pure Budapest, his Czech and Russian a bit weaker, his
He was a brutal man, but that brutality hid a very
sentimental, emotional core. He was likely to weep when reminded of the family
he had left behind in pre-war Czechoslovakia. He did not want to be reminded of
his Jewish background, though he never denied it. It was Elisabeth who brought
him back to his Jewish roots.
He asked me to become the editor of a
journal (Holocaust and Genocide Studies, now very ably edited by Richard
Breitman) basically because he felt guilty of having abandoned his parents. He
financed the mammoth Oxford Conference on the Holocaust in 1988, but all
practical affairs relating to the Holocaust were managed by Elizabeth.
betrayed her with other women, he yelled at and cursed his employees, his
attitude to his children was imperious at best, and yet he was admired by all of
them, and by Elizabeth. He suffered from insomnia (I slept in the room next to
his, so I know), and used the nights to read, endlessly, everything he could lay
his hands on. Elisabeth supported him.
He died “mysteriously,” they
It is clear to me that he was murdered, while on a boat in Spanish
waters. He received the equivalent of a state funeral in Jerusalem, with Ehud
Olmert making a speech which fortunately was not understood by Elisabeth and her
seven children (“at last you have arrived where you always wanted to
Elisabeth was the chair of a major organization for Christian-
Jewish dialogue, and continued to organize Holocaust conferences. Bob Maxwell’s
empire dissolved at his death, as it turned out that he had stolen his
employees’ pension funds and had cheated his way in and out of
Elisabeth lost her pension, all her property, and only her
children continued to support her. She was a wonderful person, kind and
supportive, quite contrary to her husband, whom she loved despite
I knew her husband’s story, I think, better than she did,
because of a peculiar connection of a cousin of mine with the young Ludwa Hoch.
I never told her what I knew. In any case, he treated me very kindly, I stayed
many times at the Maxwells’ mansion in Oxford and Elisabeth’s mansion in France,
and I got to know him very well. But Elisabeth Maxwell I just loved.
writer is a professor and Holocaust historian.