Joan Hecht, who died at the age of 80 on 26 August, made headlines in 1939 when she survived the sinking of a passenger ship in the early days of the Second World War.
Hecht, who was 10 years old at the time, was returning to Baltimore from a visit to Scotland aboard the passenger liner SS Athenia when it was sunk by a German U-boat whose captain mistook the vessel for an armed merchant cruiser. German authorities immediately suppressed the facts surrounding the incident, and the true story remained untold until the Nuremberg war trials. The U-boat commander, Oberlieutnant Fritz-Julius Lemp, was not court-martialled, but Hitler immediately ordered that under no circumstances were passenger ships to be attacked. There were 1,100 passengers and crew aboard; 118 died, many in a lifeboat that was sunk accidentally by a rescue vessel's propeller.
After the War Hecht lived in Heidelberg, Germany, where her husband, a lawyer, worked for the US Navy. In 1963 they moved to Westport, Connecticut, where she worked as a volunteer at an old people's centre.Reuse content