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Obituary: Lady Sieff of Brimpton

Lily Sieff was one of the outstanding leaders of Jewish communal organisations in Great Britain and in Israel.

At the time of her death she was the Chairman of the British Friends of the Art Museum of Israel, a trustee of the British Friends of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, on the Council of the Institute of Jewish Affairs, a member of the Executive of the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council of Great Britain, on the Management Committee of the Kennedy Institute of Rheumatology and one of the leading spirits of Wizo (the World Zionist Organisation), where she served as trustee, patron, and in many executive positions for its various activities. There, and in many other areas, her great organisational skill and her questing spirit of generosity and concern for humanity manifested itself.

Her life was a portrait of the Jewish world in the 20th century. Born Lily Spatz in Lemberg, Poland, in 1930, she lived in a setting of comfort and privilege surrounded by a loving family. She was always shy, hiding behind a sofa when her father had visitors; and in due course hid that shyness within a structure of total organisation controlling every aspect of her public and private life.

When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, the Spatz family first moved into their country house. Then, some of them, including Lily, managed a spectacular escape by car to Czechoslovakia, where they crossed the border clandestinely. Eventually, through Romania, they found their way to Palestine, and Lily's love affair with that land began. She had moved from a comfortable life to a one-room flat in Tel Aviv, but felt happy in that new world. She learnt Hebrew, attended both primary and high school in Tel Aviv, and expanded her knowledge of languages, which eventually brought her to Geneva, where she obtained her BA in Economic Science. By then, she spoke French, Hebrew, Polish, English and Italian, which she used for her art studies in Italy. She continued her studies in the Graduate Department of the London School of Economics.

Lily's first husband was Martin Moretzki, the son of close family friends in Poland who had also escaped to Israel. They married in 1954 and lived in Montreal and London until his death from cancer in 1958. Five years later she married, as his fourth wife, Marcus Sieff (now Lord Sieff of Brimpton and for many years the governing spirit of Marks and Spencer); and a new life began for her in London. Lily stood alongside Marcus in all phases of his work and they shared all interests of concern in British business, Jewish and cultural life. She worked with great diligence for the Weizmann Institute in Israel, which recently honoured her with a place on their board.

Lily Sieff was surrounded by countless friends and a warm family; later, she re-established her links with the family in Poland. Still, she was lonely, with a shyness which could keep others at a distance. Israel and Jewish life after the Holocaust were abiding concerns. A short time ago, she took her daughter Daniela, a biological anthropologist, to Poland to examine the death camps, and to look for her old home. It no longer existed.

During this last period, with Marcus now ill, she remained by his side, the devoted, loyal wife and nurse. Her own illness came to her suddenly and unexpectedly, and her courage and shining spirit during these final months were an inspiration.

Albert H. Friedlander

Pauline Lily Spatz, community leader: born Lemberg, Poland 16 July 1930; married 1954 Martin Moretzki (died 1958), 1963 Marcus Sieff (Kt 1971, created 1980 Baron Sieff of Brimpton; one daughter); died London 28 February 1997.