Let Hedy Epstein Speak Her Truth

February 22, 2015

Dear Ms. Heather Wokusch and the Austrian Parliament,

I am writing as a U.S. citizen who learned of your extension, followed by your retraction of an invitation to Hedy Epstein, to speak at the conference, ‘In Grandmother’s Words: The Fate of Women in the Second World War.’: I am aware she graciously accepted your invitation, how fortunate for Austria. I can assure you, having had the opportunity to make Hedy’s acquaintance and hear her speak from an open heart and brilliant mind, you could not have chosen a more apt representative of the Fate of Women in the Second World War.

How saddened and deeply troubled I am to hear her invitation was retracted. I must start by saying this is simply in poor taste and bad manners. I wish your decision was as simply as this but publications in Israeli news outlets confirm it was bullying tactics and false claims of anti-Semitism, which lie at the root of your decision.

I am sad for you, not Hedy. Hedy knows well how to live through rejection. She was forced to leave her own country as a young girl, separated from her family due to anti-Semitism and war propaganda. She will weather this rejection with grace and dignity as she has in the past.

It is what the rest of us do that matters. A decision to exclude Hedy Epstein from this conference undermines Grandmothers, women, sisters, and feminists around the world who have struggled for life, justice, autonomy, and taken a stand against patriarchal dominance. I hope you will reflect on the implications of your decision. It is dominance, censorship, spreading false narratives that bring about conditions that lead to fascism and war.

I am a retired University of California administrator well seasoned in the bullying tactics you chose to succumb to. We are in troubling times, not because of the bullies investing in silencing through law fare, withdraw of funds and support, or making false claims and threats. There will always be a bully on the block. We’re in trouble because too many, including you and the Austrian Parliament, are cowering to these tactics.

Hedy Epstein embodies a different decision ~ the courage to stand for justice and truth regardless of threat. Your action exemplifies how much you would benefit hearing from Hedy Epstein.

There is a reason you invited Hedy to speak and represent The Fate of Women in the Second World War. You do not have to repeat humanities’ tragic history. I am not asking you to be courageous, like Hedy, merely that you do what is right. Ask for forgiveness and re-extend your invitation to Hedy Epstein, not for her but for yourselves and for humanity.


Debra Ellis
MS Counseling and Human Systems

The international community makes a stand, sending a letter to Austrian media outlets who slandered Hedy Epstein.