Margit Meissner, a Holocaust survivor and long-time volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, died on July 10. She was 97.
Meissner lived a busy life, according to her family and colleagues, which was precisely the way she liked it. Her work as a non-violence advocate took her all over the world. In Bethesda, she advocated for special needs students.
“She was a very beloved member of the museum community and museum family,” said Diane Saltzman, director of institutional stewardship at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Meissner was born in Austria in 1922. She spent most of her childhood in Prague, Czechoslovakia. But In 1938, when an expansionist Nazi Germany annexed western Czechoslovakia, Meissner’s mother sent her to live and study in Paris out of concern for her safety.
When World War II broke out the next, her family spread out across the globe. Meissner’s mother was interned in France trying to join her there. In 1940, Meissner escaped Paris on a bicycle, riding for 20 miles, narrowly avoiding invading German troops. She reunited with her mother and, eventually, the two made it to America.
There, she married Otmar Gyorgy. After the war, they attended the Nuremburg trials. She left Gyorgy and returned to the United States, where she became a manufacturer of children’s clothes.
She next moved to Argentina, where she worked as a dress design instructor and elementary school teacher. She also met and married Frank Meissner. They had two children, and were involved with Zionist causes.
The Meissners became supporters of Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba.
The Meissners eventually moved to Maryland, where her daughter’s learning disabilities led her to focus on students with special needs. She earned a master’s degree in special education at the age of 65.
Frank Meissner died in 1990. In 2015, Margit Meissner married John Garms, whom she had met at a party in 2009. They talked the entire night, Garms told WJW.
She sent him a copy of her 2003 autobiography, “Margit’s Story.”
“I wanted to know more about what makes her tick and in the process of that, I fell in love with her,” he said. “We were never really apart from that moment [we met]. Now, I’m having a great deal of trouble sleeping without that wonderful person by my side.”
Together the two traveled around the world. Meissner often traveled for as a volunteer with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, where she was a tour guide, translator (she spoke six languages), speaker and worked with students in the museum’s ambassador program.
“She had many hats here,” Saltzman said, “She was incredibly sharp. She was a non-stop learner, so when a topic came up that she became engaged with, she did a tremendous amount of her own research. She was self-educating herself all the time and continued adding to her repertoire of knowledge.”
Meissner took the museum’s principle of Never Again, to heart, Garms said. She encouraged “people not to be bystanders and encouraged people to get involved. That was her message to the very end,” he said.
Meissner was predeceased by her parents and her second husband Frank. She is survived by her beloved husband, John Garms; her children, Paul and Anne; her five grandchildren and other family and friends across the globe.