Elisabeth Maxwell

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Elisabeth Maxwell
Elisabeth Meynard

(1921-04-11)11 April 1921
La Grive, France
Died(2013-08-07)7 August 2013 (aged 92)
EducationOxford University
OccupationHolocaust Researcher, proponent of interfaith dialogue
Robert Maxwell (m. 1946)
Children9, including Christine, Isabel, Ian, Kevin and Ghislaine

Elisabeth "Betty" Maxwell (née Meynard; 11 March 1921 – 7 August 2013) was a French born researcher on the Holocaust who established the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies in 1987.[1] She was married to the publishing tycoon and fraudster Robert Maxwell.[2]


She was born Elisabeth Jenny Jeanne Meynard in La Grive, near Saint-Alban-de-Roche, France, to Louis "Paul" Meynard and Colombe (née Petel) Meynard.[1][3] Paul Meynard was a Protestant descendant of the Huguenot aristocracy and Colombe Meynard was a Roman Catholic (whose marriage to a Protestant resulted in her excommunication).[4] Her father Paul owned a silk-weaving factory and was the mayor of the village.[2][5][6] Elisabeth had one sibling, an older sister, Yvonne.[3] Her parents sent her to England at age nine to attend the convent of Our Lady of Compassion at Acocks Green in Birmingham.[4] In 1932, she returned to France. Elisabeth Meynard studied law at the Sorbonne.

In September 1944, after the Liberation of Paris, she met Czechoslovakian-born British Army Captain Robert Maxwell, while working as an interpreter for the 'Welcome Committee', which introduced French people to allied officers; they married on 15 March 1945.[1] She then worked as his secretary and assistant in London as he established his publishing empire.[1] Elisabeth Maxwell and Robert had nine children: Michael, Philip, Ann, Christine, Isabel, Karine, Ian, Kevin and Ghislaine. All of Maxwell's children were delivered by her sister Yvonne, a gynecologist, in Maisons-Laffitte, France.[4] Two of the children died in childhood; daughter Karine died in 1957 at age three from leukemia and son Michael entered a coma following a car crash in 1961 and died six years later without regaining consciousness.[7] At first, the family lived on a budget at a "second-hand Morris estate" but later moved into a mansion at Broomfield, Esher.[1] Starting in 1960, the family lived at Headington Hill Hall where the offices to Robert Maxwell's Pergamon Press were also located.[8][4]

In her forties, Maxwell worked in public relations for her husband's company and campaigned for him in the General Election of 1964. She then earned a BA degree in modern languages at St Hugh’s College, Oxford.

In 1981, at age 60 Maxwell was awarded a Doctorate of Philosophy in French Literature from the University of Oxford for her thesis on The art of Letter Writing in France, 1789-1830.[9][10] Her thesis work focused on researching a Protestant circle in Lyons.[11]

Maxwell researched her husband's Jewish relatives who perished under Nazi rule, and discovered they amounted in total to over 300 of his immediate and extended family.[9][12][13]

In 1988, Elisabeth Maxwell organized a conference in both Oxford and London titled "Remembering for the Future".[4] That same year, she received the Sir Sigmund Sternberg award for furthering Christian/Jewish relations.[1] Maxwell's authored a book on antisemitism titled Silence or Speaking Out, published in 1990 by the University of Southhampton.[14]

Elisabeth's husband Robert was found dead, floating in the waters of the Canary Islands near his yacht, the Lady Ghislaine, in November 1991. Following his mysterious death, evidence emerged that Robert Maxwell had plundered his employees' pension funds from the Mirror Group. It is believed she knew nothing of her husband's fraud; his behaviour left her financial resources severely depleted after his death.[9] Yehuda Bauer, a fellow Holocaust historian stated that after Robert Maxwell's death "Elisabeth lost her pension, all her property, and only her children continued to support her. She was a wonderful person, kind and supportive, quite contrary to her husband, whom she loved despite everything."[15]

Following the pension scandal, Maxwell reportedly left the UK and spent time at her chateau in France.[1] She returned to Britain after the Duke of Westminster "let her a four-bedroomed townhouse at a peppercorn rent".[1]

Maxwell's autobiography, entitled A Mind of My Own: My Life with Robert Maxwell, was published in November 1994.[16] In a 1995 interview with the New York Times, she reflected on her marriage stating ”The worst years of my life were 1981 to 1991. I was at his beck and call with no kudos, nothing was right. What saved me was my work on the Holocaust.”[17] In her seventies and early eighties, Maxwell traveled and lectured widely on Holocaust studies.[4]

Maxwell was an editor for the book Remembering for the Future: the Holocaust in an Age of Genocide, a comprehensive work including the contributions of nearly 200 scholars, published in 2001.[18][19] According to the BBC, Maxwell served as the executive chairman of the Remembering for the Future organization and was the opening speaker for the London conference Evil and Indifference: Is there an End to Genocide? held at Westminster Hall in July 2000.[20] She was on the Executive Committee of the International Council of Christians and Jews and founded the International Conference on the Holocaust.[18]

Elisabeth Maxwell was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the Woolf Institute at Cambridge for her work to improved relations between Christians and Jews.[21][22] She also received an Honorary Fellowship at Tel Aviv University.[22]

Later in life, Maxwell reportedly spent most of her time living in France with her sister Yvonne.[4] She died at the age of 92 in Dordogne, France.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i The Times Elisabeth Maxwell Obituary 10 August 2013 https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/elisabeth-maxwell-97fv8p9s6ht Retrieved 28 August 2019
  2. ^ a b Elisabeth Maxwell, Expert on Holocaust, Dies at 92
  3. ^ a b APOTHÉLOZ, Christian. "Elisabeth Jeanne Meynard Betty: Family Tree". Geneanet. Retrieved August 27, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Betty Maxwell Obituary". The Telegraph. August 8, 2013. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  5. ^ https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/educational-magazines/maxwell-meynard-elisabeth-1921
  6. ^ Martin, Douglas (August 8, 2013). "Elisabeth Maxwell, Expert on Holocaust, Dies at 92". The New York Times. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  7. ^ Rampton, James (April 28, 2007). "Maxwell was a monster - but much more, too". The Telegraph. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  8. ^ Stevenson, Tom (May 29, 1993). "Maxwell home sold - with tenant: Tycoon's widow may stay at Headington another six years". The Independent. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  9. ^ a b c Martyin Childs "Betty Maxwell: Widow of media tycoon who became a respected Holocaust scholar", The Independent, 11 August 2013
  10. ^ Barwick, Sandra (October 25, 1994). "The beast and his beauties: Robert Maxwell mesmerised and bullied women". The Independent. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  11. ^ May, Alex (2014). "Obituaries 2013, Elisabeth Maxwell". Oxford Today. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  12. ^ Friedman, Jeanette (September 4, 2013). "Elisabeth Jenny Jeanne Meynard Maxwell". Jewish Link of New Jersey. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  13. ^ Hourican, Emily (October 17, 2016). "Robert Maxwell: legacy of 'The Bouncing Czech'". Independent. Retrieved August 12, 2019.
  14. ^ Maxwell, Elisabeth (1990). Silence Or Speaking Out. University of Southampton. ISBN 0854323929.
  15. ^ Bauer, Yehuda (August 13, 2013). "Remembering Elizabeth Maxwell". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved July 17, 2019.
  16. ^ Diski, Jenny (26 January 1995). "Bob and Betty". London Review of Books. Retrieved 16 December 2014.
  17. ^ Witchel, Alex (February 15, 1995). "At Lunch With: Elisabeth Maxwell; Questions Without Answers". The New York Times. Retrieved July 25, 2019.
  18. ^ a b "Holocaust expert Elisabeth Maxwell dies at 92", Times of Israel, 9 August 2013. Retrieved 11 August 2013
  19. ^ Roth, John K.; Maxwell, Elizabeth, eds. (2001). Remembering for the Future: the Holocaust in an Age of Genocide. London: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-333-80486-5.
  20. ^ "Causes of genocide probed". BBC News. July 21, 2000. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  21. ^ "Woolf Institute Annual Report 2009-2010" (PDF). Woolf Institute, Cambridge, UK. Retrieved July 18, 2019.
  22. ^ a b Jacobs, Gerald (December 19, 2013). "Celebrating fierce woman, Elisabeth Maxwell". The Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved July 18, 2019.