Hedwig (Hedi) Frankl

Hidden, betrayed and saved again – the matchmaker who rose from the Holocaust to help others find love and marriage


When Hedi Frankl entered a room there was a bustle about her that suggested a woman with business on her mind. Whether that business was books, classical music, Judaism or – that faintly cynical matchmaking enterprise, in which she was involved for 25 years.

Except that Hedi Frankl, who has died aged 93, was not in any way a cynic. A realist perhaps, with a touch of satire, someone who could joke but was also deadly serious. The serious side stemmed from a life spent on the run; she had been hidden, betrayed and forced into labour camps during the Holocaust in which she lost her parents and most of her family.  

But the Hedi I met late in her life at the former Hendon Reform Synagogue, at the hairdressers, at the book club, at musical soirées which she hosted with intelligence and style, was not someone you expected to have survived a past of such grief and tragedy.

The eldest of six siblings, Hedi escaped from the Holocaust after her mother arranged false identity papers for her and helped her to study Christianity.  Newly transformed into Borishka Kovacs she was sent to live with a Christian family. But that safeguard lasted only weeks before she was betrayed to the Gestapo and deported in a five day horrifying journey in a cattle wagon to a transit camp in Strasbourg.

That was in 1944, the spring of the Nazi onslaught on the northern Hungarian town of Ballyassagyarmat. She spent the following year in forced labour at the Siemens Electrons Company where she befriended a 19 year old girl called Alice Hersch with whom she shared food and warm clothes. Both teenagers luckily escaped a Nazi death march when a foreman at the factory, Herr Meier, took pity on them and hid them in his Vienna home until the end of the war.

Hedi was then reunited with one of her brothers, and in 1947 an uncle who had fled the Nazis before the war helped them to come to the UK. But her parents and four remaining siblings were all murdered in Auschwitz. Two years later Hedi married but the marriage did not last. She had a daughter who now lives in Israel and grandsons in New York and Amsterdam.

Diminutive in size, but resourceful and spirited, Hedi  became a social worker for the former Jewish Welfare Board (Jewish Care). She then opened an embroidery factory in east London. In 1969, her life took a different turn as she launched the Hedi Fischer Marriage Bureau and ran it for 25 years. One concrete result of this endeavour was the publication of her book, Matchmaker, Matchmaker. 

A founding member of the Holocaust Survivors Centre, she told a meeting there last year: “The past must not be forgotten. Make the best of your life. It’s not a rehearsal, so give it your best and have a positive attitude.”
Hedi was the embodiment of positive attitude. She was energetic, glamorous and quirky, and certainly knew what she wanted. She made a positive contribution to the former Hendon Reform Synagogue book club I was running at the time, passionately offering literature of personal interest to her, and introducing sparkling commentary on the books we were reading at the time.

A doyen of the world of classical music she organised themed musical soirèes at her Hendon flat, offering coffee and refreshments to her guests, and that eternally welcoming smile on her face. But with no family in Britain, ageing for her as for many survivors, could bring the past back and generate loneliness. Hedi lived in sheltered accommodation in Hendon, aided by the Claims Conference through the Association of Jewish Refugees, which provided home care assistance. She suffered from acute anxiety and depression which proved a nightly struggle for her.  She clearly kept those nocturnal torments well hidden, for in my memory Hedi’s sparkle and vivacity were undiminished. 

She had high praise for her social worker – who “listens to my troubles and has arranged care and support for me so that I can continue to live independently.” She added:  “A nice, friendly visitor comes to see me once a fortnight and we talk together, and this partially relieves my loneliness.” 

She is survived by her daughter and two grandsons.

Hedwig (Hedi) Frankel: born May 8, 1927. Died October 15, 2020

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