As a young girl, Lori Shearn was saved from the Nazis through a brief ad in the London Jewish Chronicle.
As a young girl, Lori Shearn was saved from the Nazis through a brief ad in the London Jewish Chronicle.

How 20 words in a Jewish newspaper saved this Marin woman from the Holocaust

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This article was originally published in London’s Jewish Chronicle, and is reprinted with permission. 

A Holocaust survivor whose desperate mother placed a classified ad in the Jewish Chronicle 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 in Greenbrae, in Marin County, arrived in London in January 1939 after the Steinberg family responded to the ad placed three months earlier 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 and is still available in the JC’s online archives.

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

Shearn’s daughter, Wendy, 67, said she has read the 20 words “over and over” since the JC brought it to her attention in May, 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,” Wendy, a retired San Rafael physician, said over Zoom.

Lori Shearn in the Steinbergs’ garden in London after her escape by train from Vienna.
Lori Shearn in the Steinbergs’ garden in London after her escape by train from Vienna.

Her mother was “speechless,” she added.

“She said how grateful she was to her mother and the Steinbergs … How surprising it was to have history speak to her like that.”

Lori 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,” Wendy said. “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.”

Lori’s immediate family scattered across the globe during those times, in China, Holland and the United States, but they reunited in New York in 1940.

From her time in England, Lori has kept some artifacts — shrapnel and bullets found on the streets of London, for example — and the hobby of knitting, a skill she picked up while contributing to the war effort.

She was evacuated to a farm in southwest England during the Blitz, and after returning to London, she sailed to the United States where she brought up her own family.

Lori, 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,” Wendy said. “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.”

Mathilde Frot

Mathilde Frot is a reporter at the London Jewish Chronicle.