Rebecca D. Sieff O.B.E. 1949-1966
Rebecca D. Sieff O.B.E. was the founder and Life President of World WIZO, Life President of the Federation of Women Zionists, Vice President of the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland, and Vice President of the British Section of the World Jewish Congress.
She was born in Leeds, England in 1890 into a home dominated by Jewish tradition. Her father, Michael Marks, left Russia arriving in England as a poor immigrant. He set up a ‘Penny Bazaar’ in Leeds which later became the famous Marks and Spencer. Married to Hannah Cohen, they had five children, several of whom are distinguished figures.
After spending most of her youth in Manchester, and whilst studying Mathematics and Literature at Manchester University, Rebecca married Israel Sieff, who later became Lord Sieff of Brimpton. Both were joined into the Zionist ideology and formed a lasting friendship with Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who was teaching at Manchester University at the time.
After moving to London at the end of World War I, she founded the Federation of Women Zionists of Great Britain. Her husband was appointed Political Secretary to the First Zionist Commission to Palestine and he was joined by his wife, Rebecca, Dr. Vera Weizmann and Edith Eder on a fact finding mission. The three women spent six months investigating social and economic conditions and the poverty and squalor convinced Rebecca that an organization of women was needed to help eradicate this state of affairs.
She returned to England and with Dr. Vera Weizmann, Edith Eder, Romana Goodman and Henrietta Irwell founded the Women’s International Zionist Organization in July, 1920. Under her leadership, which lasted 43 years, the movement grew of embrace a quarter of a million Jewish women in fifty countries. WIZO was to become her greatest single achievement, although she, and her family also founded the Daniel Sieff Research Institute in the Weizman Institute, in 1934, in memory of her son who had tragically lost his life.
When the Nazis rose to power she established the Women’s Appeal Committee, uniting all Jewish women’s groups in an attempt to save Jews from central Europe. She personally enabled 1,000 youth to escape death by bringing them to England (they later settled in Palestine) and arranged for the transfer of five hundred Jewish families from Czechoslovakia to Palestine.
After the war she was amongst the first to visit the deportation camps in Europe and then spent Rosh Hashana of 1945 with Jewish survivors from Bergen Belson. She made an impassioned plea at the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine in 1946, asking them to permit the 32,000 Jewish children who had survived the Holocaust and were in deportation camps to be able to settle in the yishuv in Palestine.
She built her Tel Mond home in Israel in 1937, which became her permanent home after the establishment of the State of Israel. Her later years were spent traveling all over the world campaigning for WIZO. She served as the President of World WIZO from its founding in 1920 until 1963.
Among the many honours bestowed upon her during her lifetime were an Honorary Fellowship to the Weizmann Institute in 1935, An O.B.E. from the Queen of England in 1960 and just one week before her death her husband was made a peer and she became Lady Rebecca Sieff.