Obituary: Dorothée Smith

Multi-lingual interpreter with an enduring French connection


The linguist and interpreter Dorothée Smith, who has died aged 87, taught French in some of Liverpool’s best schools. She also tutored for the Workers Adult Education Association and the University of Liverpool’s Department of Extra Mural Studies. More recently she coached the top executives of some of Liverpool best known Insurance corporations in conversational and business French.

Dorothée was the first of two daughters born in Corsica to Jenya (née Goldberg) from Latvia and Hillel Nussbaum, a stevedore of Polish-Chassidic origins. She was brought up in a strongly religious Zionist home. The family returned to Libau in Latvia six weeks after her birth. Her younger sister, Gita Esther was born in 1933. Three years later Dorothée and her parents returned to Corsica, having entrusted Gita Esther to an uncle and aunt.

The war years were very difficult for Dorothée. Her sister was murdered with her uncle and aunt along with most of Libau’s Jewish community in the latter half of 1941. And Hillel, who had volunteered to fight for France, became a prisoner of war in Germany. He was later released in a prisoner-swap.

In order to survive, meanwhile, her mother sold family valuables and gave lessons to local children.They were permanently hungry, living with the constant fear that as Jews they might be denounced and deported by the fascist occupiers of the Island. At great personal risk they decided not to wear a Yellow Star. They hid their religion and Dorothée attended church regularly in Ajaccio and neighbouring villages. Despite this her mother secretly educated her in all aspects of Judaism.

Dorothée proved very academic, and developed a love for French literature and British culture. She won most of the school prizes. After the war she studied at the University of Aix-en-Provence and went on to teach in Oxford and Edinburgh. In Edinburgh as a French “assistante” at George Watsons Ladies College, and the Mary Erskine School for Girls in the early 50s, she met her future husband Dr Ian Smith, and they settled in Liverpool.

After her children were born Dorothée became a well known home tutor to countless children and adults too. She already spoke eight languages and also became skilled at interpretation.

However, her proudest achievement was her long-standing chairmanship of the Societé Litteraire Française de Liverpool, an organisation dating back to 1874, which earned her the prestigious Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Academiques medal in 1989.

Dorothée was an active member of the Liverpool 35s group campaigning on behalf of Jewish refuseniks, whom she phoned regularly in fluent Yiddish. She was a cheerful extrovert with a lively Mediterranean personality. She disliked injustice and was a devoted and energetic grandparent and great grandparent. Sadly in her latter years her mild eccentricities were replaced by early onset Alzheimers and she moved to Stapely Residential home, where she brought much entertainment to all who encountered her.

Dorothée Smith had a difficult childhood in turbulent times, greatly scarred by the cruel loss of her younger sister and family. But she loved Liverpool and Liverpool loved her. A giving and generous person, she touched the lives of all she met and taught.

She is survived by her son Maurice, her daughter Joanne Marcus, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

maurice a smith

Dorothée Smith: born April 28, 1931. Died July 22, 2018

Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive