Lili Armstrong obituary

Other lives: Artist, centenarian and survivor of Nazi Germany

My mother, Lili Armstrong, who has died aged 106, was a survivor of Nazi Germany and her life was affected by many of the significant events of the 20th century.

Born in Berlin during the first world war, she was the daughter of Jewish parents, Jenny (nee Gutman) and Samuel Weiss. Her father ran a mineral water company but contracted stomach cancer and took his own life when Lili was two.

Later on she was an aspiring concert pianist and also represented Berlin as a teenage sprinter just as Adolf Hitler was coming to power. In 1937 Lili managed to charm officials into allowing her to attend an agricultural course in Yugoslavia, which was then an established gateway for entry into Palestine. Her mother died of a heart condition shortly before the start of the second world war, while her half-sister Klaera and nephew Kurt were both murdered in Nazi concentration camps.

In Palestine, Lili met my father, Walter Levy (who later changed his name to Peter Munk). They married and my brother, Ariel, was born in 1944. Lili was there during the first Arab-Israeli war, leaving the newly founded state of Israel in 1948 to join Walter in London only after nearly two years of separation. Later my father started the Commonwealth Players, one of the first multicultural acting groups, with Lili designing and painting the scenery.

The marriage never recovered from their time apart. I was born in 1952, possibly a last-ditch attempt to save it. In the late 1950s my mother started working for Neville Armstrong, of the publishers Neville Spearman. Their relationship began soon after that. In 1976 they set up home in Suffolk but did not marry until 1999, after Neville’s first wife had died, when they were well into their 80s; Lili was a practising Buddhist and they married in a Buddhist ceremony. My parents had divorced in 1967.

Lili was vivacious, optimistic and sharp-eyed. She was also an avid theatre-goer, a lover of yoga and shoe polishing. In 1997 her life story was documented in the interview she gave for the USC Shoah Foundation in California, Steven Spielberg’s video archive of Holocaust witnesses.

In later years, Lili left Suffolk after Neville died in 2008. At 94 she moved to London to start a new life; a broken hip did nothing to dent her enthusiasm or energy.

She was an accomplished artist, attending classes once a week, and going to lectures at the University of the Third Age until dementia stopped her. A woman whose life stretched over more than a century, she was a force of nature.

Lili is survived by Ariel and me, eight grandchildren, Sophie, Josh, Charlotte, Matthew, Isabella, Phoebe, Flora and Reuben, and two great-grandchildren, Lila and Oliver.

Danny Levy

The GuardianTramp

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