Great-grandmother left ‘speechless’ by short advert in the JC that saved her from the Nazis

EXCLUSIVE: Survivor presented with the short sentence that saved her life 83 years ago


A survivor whose desperate mother placed an advert in the JC in 1938 pleading with readers to bring her daughter to safety in England was left “speechless” when presented with the short sentence that saved her life 83 years ago.

Austrian-born Lori Shearn, now 95 and living near San Francisco, arrived in London in January 1939 after Orthodox family the Steinbergs responded to the classified ad placed the previous October by her mother, Irma Beller, weeks before hundreds of shuls and businesses were destroyed during the Kristallnacht pogrom.

The advert simply read: “13-year-old intelligent, pretty, healthy Viennese girl asks for a new home in Jewish family. Beller, 3, Sanettigasse, Vienna 8.”

It was one of a handful of similar appeals carried in the JC that week. It is still available in the JC’s online archives.

Mrs Beller had hoped to buy an ad in the Times but, worried it might not be visible enough, walked across the street to the JC’s Vienna offices, which offered cheaper rates.

Mrs Shearn’s daughter, Wendy, said she has read the 20 words “over and over” since the JC brought it to her attention last week and that it felt like listening to history speak.

“Seeing my grandmother’s terror and love as she bravely placed an ad in a newspaper she’d never heard of to send her beloved daughter to land she’d never been to, it’s such a moving cry for help,” the 67-year-old said over Zoom.

Her mother was “speechless,” she said.

“She said how grateful she was to her mother and the Steinbergs.

“How surprising it was to have history speak to her like that.”

Mrs Shearn made the journey to London by train in January 1939 still just 13, unable to speak English and with a passport and temporary permit in hand.

“She missed her train and she arrived hours later towards midnight in London and these lovely people had waited for her and there she was with the number of their house, 61, around her neck,” added Wendy.

“They found her and brought her to the place and they were so nice.

“She was put in school right away and she learned English.

“She said she was put in a corner in the classroom and given some books,” her daughter said.

Lori’s immediate family had become scattered across the globe in China, Holland and the US but they reunited in New York in November 1940.

Of her time in England, Mrs Shearn has kept some artefacts – shrapnel and bullets found on the streets of London – and the hobby of knitting, a skill she picked up while contributing to the war effort.

She was evacuated to a farm in Dorset during the Blitz an, after returning to London, sailed to the US where she brought up her own family.

Mrs Shearn, who contracted coronavirus earlier this year but has since made a strong recovery, has three children, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

She lost her husband in 2002 after a long and happy marriage, her daughter said. “She’s had a really great life. She was lucky. She survived and her family survived and when she tells her story she remarks on the helpers, the people who were good and kind in her voyage.”

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