Obituary: Rose Lebor

The first Holocaust survivor to become a Lady Mayoress has sadly died, aged 77.


Rose Lebor, one of the youngest children to survive the Nazi death camp of Majdanek, Poland, has died in London, aged 77, after a brief illness.

As a businesswoman, she played a significant role in the 1980s in familiarising British holiday-makers with the Languedoc region of southern France.

As the first Holocaust survivor to become a Lady Mayoress, she was also deeply involved in the career of her husband, Councillor John Lebor, long-time Labour leader of the London borough of Brent, who was its mayor in the Millennium year 2000.

Born in Cracow in April, 1940, Rose was only eight months old when the Germans conquered Poland and launched the Final Solution. Her parents Gedalia and Regina Deitel, together with the rest of Cracow Jewry, were ordered into the ghetto which was to become the subject of the film Schindler’s List.

In 1943, following the death of her father and numerous other relatives, she and her mother found themselves in Majdanek camp, in a suburb of Lublin, where 80,000 people were killed. In 1945, while the camp was being liberated by the Red Army, mother and daughter were among a convoy of Jewish prisoners whom the Nazis were transferring towards Germany. They were only saved when a Russian tank smashed into the truck in which they were travelling and their German guard shot himself.

Returning to Cracow, Regina married another Polish Jew who had spent the war behind the Russian lines. He was Abraham (Albert) Kalischer, whose own wife and children had perished in the Holocaust. But it was only many years later, in their new home in Paris, that Rose learned accidentally that the man she regarded as her beloved father was in fact her step-father.

Rose recorded these and other stories in an autobiography dedicated to her six year-old grand-daughter Lilly Lebor and published privately last October.

It contains her own memories of her first wanderings across the borders of Europe in search of a new life.

First stop was the friendly American DP (displaced persons) camp in Bad Gastein, Austria, where she was taught modern Hebrew by teachers from Palestine. There they waited in vain for permits to British-ruled Palestine. In desperation they joined hair-raising treks over the Alps, first into Italy and finally into southern France.

By 1948, the family reached Paris and initially squatted inside the vast, empty La Victoire synagogue, then in disuse after the mass deportations of its former congregants. Abraham and Regina subsequently found a little flat in the Marais, the poor Jewish quarter, and scraped a living as tailors to provide for themselves and their child.

It was there that Polish-born, Yiddish-speaking Rose grew into the dashing, vivacious French brunette who caught the eye of budding politician and trade union lawyer John Lebor, whom she married in London in 1962.

As a London housewife, Rose’s French hospitality and cuisine became legendary among the guests at her dinner table in Cricklewood and for the rest of her life at their second home in southern France, where she and John became pillars of the local community.

She was no mere political wife, however. In the 1970s, she carved out her own successful property career by founding Miss France Holidays, an agency for letting holiday properties in Southern France. It introduced scores of English families to the beauty of the Languedoc and Provence, and for many like Rose, became a second home.

Rose is survived by her husband John, son Benjamin, daughter-in-law Geda, and grand-daughter Lilly.

Rose Lebor: born April 8, 1940. Died May 9, 2017

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