Judith Magyar Isaacson (1925- ), a Holocaust survivor and former Bates College dean, was born in Kaposvar, Hungary, in 1925. When she was 19, her family was deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. From there, Judith, her mother, Rozsa, and her aunt, Magda Rosenberger, were sent to a slave labor camp in Hessisch Lichtenau, a satellite of Buchenwald. By constantly looking out for each other, Judith, her mother, and aunt managed to stay together throughout the whole ordeal, but they lost most of their close family members, including Judith’s father who perished at Muhldorf Lager, her grandmother, and an aunt.
Isaacson, her mother and aunt were liberated in Leipzig by American forces in April 1945. A month later, she met Irving Isaacson, a captain in the U.S. Army Office of Strategic Services, and a native of Lewiston. They married that year and came to Lewiston in 1946 where they settled and had three children and seven grandchildren.
In 1965, she earned a bachelor degree in mathematics at Bates College and a master’s at Bowdoin College in 1969 , the year she was hired as Dean of Women at Bates College. She was promoted to Dean of Students in 1975. While she was dean, Judith became an advocate for equal treatment between men and women and a public advocate for women’s rights.
After discussing her Holocaust experiences with student groups, Judith decided to write her memoirs. She published them as Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of A Survivor in 1990. Her book has become a valued source for Holocaust research and women’s studies. Seed of Sarah has appeared in German and Hungarian translations. The book sold well worldwide and has brought increasing demand for Isaacson’s services as a speaker. She has appeared frequently before student groups and other audiences to share her memories and speak out for fair and equal treatment of all people.
She served on the Bowdoin College Board of Overseers from 1984 to 1996 and on the governing boards of the Auburn Public Library, Central Maine Medical Center, and the Central Maine Medical Center Nursing School. She has received honorary doctorates from Bates, Colby College, and the University of New England. Other awards include the University of New England’s Deborah Morton Award, the Hargraves Preservation of Freedom Prize at Bowdoin College, the Maryann Hartman Award at the University of Southern Maine.
She was inducted into the Maine Women’s Hall of Fame in 2004. Her literary papers related to Seed of Sarah are part of the Maine Women Writers Collection at the University of New England. Her other papers are housed in the Judith Isaacson Collection at Bates College.
Isaacson, Judith Magyar. Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of A Survivor. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1990.
Isaacson, Judith Magyar. Judith Magyar Isaacson: March 24, 1988, Augusta, Maine. (interview). Augusta, Me. Holocaust Human Rights Center of Maine. c2003.
Judith Isaacson Collection, Bates College.
“Judith Magyar Isaacson.” Maine Women’s Hall of Fame. http://www.uma.edu/mwhof-jisaacson.html
Contributed by Amanda Edmondson, Topsham, Maine, 2008.