Magda Brown was a Holocaust survivor who traveled the world on a mission to share her story and preach kindness, tolerance, and respect. We are devastated to share that Magda passed away July 7, 2020 at the age of 93.
Grandma Magda made the world a better, kinder, and more thoughtful place and is missed by so many. It is up to all of us to live out her lessons and carry on her legacy – we hope you will explore this site to learn more about Magda’s story, share her lessons with others, and explore tributes to Magda’s incredible life and the impact she had.
“Protect your freedom. Think before you hate. Stand up to the deniers.”
For the past two decades, Magda Brown and her daughter, Rochelle, traveled across the country and around the world, driven by a mission to share Magda’s harrowing story of surviving the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Buchenwald concentration camps and building a new life in the United States. Magda embraced every opportunity to reach people, speaking to more than 100,000 people in person – and reaching millions more online.
Magda left each audience with three key lessons: Protect your freedom. Think before you hate. Stand up to the deniers.
A kind and caring grandmother who preached love, tolerance, and acceptance, Magda gave amazing “Grandma hugs,” “noisy kisses,” and ended every conversation with, “I love you THIS MUCH,” with her arms out wide. Brown loved traveling, embarking on new experiences, and forming beautiful friendships with people around the world. An incredible host, cook, and Jewish grandmother, everyone was always welcome at her kitchen table and for a stay at the “Brown Hotel.”
Magda was survived by her son and daughter, nine grandchildren, ten great-grandchildren, three great-great-grandchildren, her sister-in-law, nieces, nephews, and cousins, along with supportive and loving family and friends across the United States, Hungary, Germany, and around the world.
Magda was known for her positivity, her courage, and her incredible determination. As she often told her audiences, “You have to have faith, fantasy, hope, drive, determination and the belief that tomorrow will be better.”
Magda spoke at events big and small, in churches, synagogues, mosques, elementary schools, and universities, and met with mayors, governors, and leadership from Congress, the Catholic Church, and the German government. In 2010, Magda traveled to Auckland, New Zealand, to speak at the Eucharistic Convention.
Magda frequently participated on panel discussions about preventing genocide and fighting for the rights of LGBTQ people, immigrants, refugees, and other vulnerable groups. Although it was painful to remember her horrendous experiences, she believed her story and others had to be told to ensure people understand that the Holocaust was a very real and frightening period in the 20th century—and to ensure that we as a society learn from the past.
Magda was active with Action Reconciliation Service for Peace, a German peace organization founded to confront the legacy of Nazism. Magda traveled to Berlin in 2018 to attend the organization’s 60th anniversary celebration, where she shared her testimony in Germany for the first time. Through ARSP, Brown formed long-lasting friendships with Gregor Darmer and other young Germans who interned at the Illinois Holocaust Museum, demonstrating the love and reconciliation that is possible between survivors and Germans of future generations.
In October 2018, Magda was about to fly to Pittsburgh to speak at Chatham University when she learned of the tragic shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue. Magda didn’t hesitate to board the plane, saying: “Now the world needs to hear the message even more. Let’s go.” Her experience was chronicled by The Washington Post and a variety of other media outlets.
A testament to her determination, Magda did everything in her power to never miss a speaking engagement. In 2017, after falling and breaking her spine on the way to Storm Lake, Iowa, she decided to Skype into her speech from her hospital bed, sharing her story with hundreds of students and community members. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, as her events and trips were canceled, she took to Facebook Live and Zoom to connect with others from home.
“My hope is that through sharing my story, I can personally talk about the horrors of the Holocaust to remind this generation of the dangers of hatred, prejudice and discrimination.”Magda Brown
In 2013, Magda received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Aurora University in recognition of her “dignified, profound courage and her tireless efforts to share the Holocaust story.” Magda was recognized by the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center for her dedication to Holocaust education. She was also a recipient of the 2020 American Association for State and Local History Award of Excellence, which recognizes leaders in collecting, preserving and interpreting history to make lessons of past more accessible and meaningful to all.
Magda’s story was featured in Final Transports, an Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center documentary that aired on public television stations across the country this spring. The film was nominated for an Emmy and won first place at the Houston Film Festival.
Magda’s portrait is featured in Lest We Forget, a project by photographer Luigi Toscano capturing the images of Holocaust survivors. Lest We Forget has exhibited at the headquarters of the United Nations, UNESCO, and more. Additionally, Magda’s portrait by photographer Thomas Müller is featured in DIE ZEUGEN, a permanent exhibition in Weimar that honors the survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp.
May her memory be a blessing.