CAFOD legacy officer Hannah Caldwell shares the inspiring story of Lisl Steiner, who fled the Nazis, became a teacher and continues to change children’s lives by the gift she left to CAFOD in her will.
There are so many inspirational people at the heart of CAFOD’s work, each with their own story. I’m lucky that in my job every now and then I get to hear a little more of some of these stories.
One that I often think of is that of Lisl Steiner, who supported CAFOD for many years and remembered us with a gift in her will.
Lisl was born into a Jewish family in Vienna, 1923. At 15, as the world was on the brink of war and Jews were suffering cruelty and persecution at the hands of the Nazi regime, she made a lonely journey to England.
She was expecting her parents and younger brother to follow close behind her, but tragically they were unable to escape. They perished in Kovno Ghetto, Lithuania. Letters show that despite their devastating situation, Lisl’s parents were grateful that one of their children had the chance to flee and continue her education.
Lisl didn’t let the tragedy she’d experienced overcome her. She was a bright young woman who was passionate about education and children’s well-being. She embarked upon a career in teaching and became a leading figure in the field of early childhood education.
In 1958, Lisl was received into the Catholic Church. Her good friend and former teacher, Eva Hornek, was her sponsor. Throughout her life Lisl was always on the look-out for quiet ways to help those who were oppressed or marginalised. Her legacy of faith and generosity lives on through the gift she left to CAFOD in her will. When someone chooses to remember CAFOD with a gift in their will, it is a precious sign that faith, hope and love can triumph.
Helping children continue their education
Legacy gifts give light in the darkness. They give hope to people like Maya.
Like Lisl, Maya had to leave her life behind because of a cruel regime. At just eight years old, she and her family fled war-torn Syria to find safety in neighbouring Lebanon. Now a teenager, Maya and her family have been in Lebanon for over five years.
Maya too is passionate about her education and strives to continue learning despite the circumstances that have been forced upon her. Thanks to gifts like Lisl’s, she has been attending the Caritas Migrant Centre. Here, Maya can continue her studies, and she and her peers can also meet to discuss the problems they face as refugees. Sharing their stories, they begin to deal with some of the trauma they experienced back home in Syria.
“I like the centre because it helps me to forget everything that happened to me,” Maya told us. “We do activities, we have fun and we take lessons.”
Like Lisl, Maya wants others to benefit from education too: “I want to tell young people everywhere to continue learning. Nothing should stop them. Even for me when the war started in Syria, I continued learning. I would not let it stop me.”
And like Lisl, despite what she has experienced Maya won’t let darkness triumph. She wants to help others and be a force for good: “Each weekend I give out things for needy families – ones like we were,” she told us. “I help with blankets and clothes and things. I want to do this because I have suffered. I have been in this situation and I don’t want others to suffer.”
Your gift could help change the world
Gifts like the one Lisl left to CAFOD in her will are vital in helping children and young people reach their potential and have a happier, more hopeful future. I never met Lisl, but I think that she would be so pleased to know that her gift is helping girls like Maya continue their education and rise above the adversity they face.
It’s easy to be cynical about the way the world is, or resign ourselves to the feeling that things can’t change. But a legacy gift like Lisl’s flies in the face of this defeatism. It says things can change; the world can be a better place. Both Lisl and Maya believe this and they inspire me to believe it too.
Every legacy gift we receive is a story of a life lived, but it also enables a new story to begin. You can be part of this story.