Marina Smith MBE, co-founder and matriarch of The National Holocaust Centre and Museum, passes away at the age of 87.

28 June 2022

Updated 30 June 2022

With enormous sadness, we announce the passing of The National Holocaust Centre and Museum’s matriarch, Marina Smith MBE.

Wife of the Reverend Eddie Smith, whose hand she lovingly held for 58 years, Marina Smith co-founded what was then called Beth Shalom, the House of Peace in October 1995 with her two sons, Dr Stephen Smith MBE and Dr James Smith CBE.

Marina, Eddie, Stephen (sitting) and James (standing). Portrait by Jillian Edelstein, December 2021.

Marina was a school teacher by profession. Formally, she assumed the role of Director of Education for the first 10 years of our existence. Informally, Marina made the House of Peace a home. A home for Holocaust survivors and their families. A place not merely of mutual understanding but of healing, affection, hope and meaning. With irrepressible verve, charisma and energy, Marina forged a bond with dozens, hundreds and in time thousands of visitors. She would ensure that every major Jewish festival was marked with a flock of her Survivor family, dipping apples in honey with them at Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New year) and sitting in a sukkah with them during Sukkot (the festival of Tabernacles). Her husband Eddie built them in the early years; in later years, their friends and grandchildren would help.

Steven Frank with Marina on her 80th birthday

In one obvious way, Marina’s warm sense of home and hospitality was baked into the bricks of Beth Shalom. In a stupendous initial act of generosity, she and Eddie consented to their sons’ idea of using their very own farmhouse — the home where they had brought Stephen and James up in the middle of rural Nottinghamshire — as the venue for their Holocaust learning centre. With the rapid growth of the project, Marina and Eddie then agreed to move out, to make way for the droves of schoolchildren now visiting daily.

With HRH the Duke of Kent, 2001

Marina was awarded an MBE in 2005 for her services to Holocaust education. In the words of her friend Raya Kalisman, founder of the Centre for Humanistic Education in Israel: “Marina was in charge of making the world better”.

Her sons and co-founders Stephen and James said:The mark our mother left on thousands of lives will be her enduring legacy. From the hug she would give to a complete stranger, to the countless letters she would send to people she had known for decades, Marina knew how to widen the circle of humanity. She led by example. Undaunted in the face of evil, she was confident that her strong faith and willingness to participate in making the world a better place than she found it, would have an enduring effect.”  

Henry Grunwald OBE QC, NHCM Chair, said: “Marina was an ‘Eshet Chayil’ in the Jewish tradition -  a true woman of worth. The love she gave to others, she got back two and three times over. She was the Matriarch of the wonderful Smith family and she remained at its very heart, beloved and respected by survivors, staff and visitors alike. My life was enriched by knowing her, and I will miss the calls and messages that, to the end, she unfailingly sent on festivals, anniversaries and personal events. The Centre is the only Holocaust Centre in the world founded by a Christian family, in an attempt to heal and repair Judeo/Christian relations in our fractured world.  She devoted her life to that end and the Centre will not be the same without her but, as she rests in the peace she so richly deserves, we pledge that work will continue after her death, inspired by her example. Our deepest condolences to Eddie, Stephen and James and all the family.”

Sir Trevor Pears CMG and Lady Daniela Pears, Smith family friends and long-time NHCM supporters, said: ‘’A true Woman of Valour. It was our privilege to have known and loved her.’’

With Arek and Jean Hersh on her 80th birthday, 2016

With Renee Salt on her 80th birthday, 2016

Steven Frank BEM, survivor of Theresienstadt, said: “I first met this diinutive woman standing at the gates welcoming us, a group of Holocaust survivors, in 1997 and immediately I wanted to be involved. I was asked by her in November 1997 to go to Wales and speak at Fairwater Comp. and a couple of weeks later at the Centre itself. That was nearly 900 talks ago end the whole process has enriched my life hugely. She sprinkled her love and interest over us all. A bright light has gone out in this troubled world. And these bright lights are so few and far between. I will miss her enthusiasm guidance and friendship dreadfully. Today will certainly be a day of reflection and thought at the Holocaust centre. Our thoughts are with you all.”

Marc Cave, NHCM Director, said: “Marina was the Jewish Mother par excellence. The glue binding the family together. Except hers was a huge, extended family on which which she doted with endless warmth, kindness and smoked salmon."

Marina Smith was born in Kolkota, India on 16 November 1934. She passed away peacefully on 26 June 2022 in Nottinghamshire, England, with her sons Stephen and James by her side. She had spent her last days surrounded by her family, loving husband Eddie and seven grandchildren. At her own request, a small private funeral ceremony for immediate family will be held (date to be confirmed). Her extraordinary life will be celebrated with all of her friends and extended family in the coming months (date to be confirmed).

For further information and to leave a tribute, please go to: 

https://www.forevermissed.com/marinasmith

Marina Smith MBE and Reverend Eddie Smith at home. Portrait by Jillian Edelstein, December 2021.


A tribute to Marina Smith MBE by her husband, the Reverend Eddie Smith

It was June 1961. I was sitting in the Methodist Minister’s office after Sunday service. There was a little knock at the door - and there in the doorway was a gorgeous girl.

‘My car won’t start. Can I use your phone?’

Bless that broken down car! We had a cup of tea together, and I learned that she was starting work next term at a local grammar school as head of Religious Education. She ransacked my library. It took two of us to carry the books into the car.

When term started, I was invited by her to speak to the students, and went back after for ‘tea’ to her digs. Actually, she was going to serve cup-of-tea, but I needed the something-to-eat kind of tea, so I scrambled some eggs and she made the toast… a homely way to start off our relationship. Eight weeks later we were engaged. We were in love, and in our late twenties. There was no stopping us. I had found the love of my life - Marina Fleming.

The following August we were married at Sidcup. After a honeymoon holiday in Scotland, marred only by our failed attempt to go camping in the hills, we arrived at our new post in Ashbourne, Derbyshire. We were glad we still had the camping equipment when we arrived as we were a few days early, and there was no furniture in the house! We were obviously very happy together, we did not notice how cramped our house was, nor how poorly maintained.

I remember our relationship was always about laughter. I would joke and pull her leg. She would laugh and hit me and tell me to stop making her laugh so hard. 

Within days of setting up home, I realised Marina’s ability to help and care for individuals. She was a magnet for people with all sorts of needs. One day, I returned from visiting to find a couple in the lounge, another in my study, and a third sitting on the front porch.

Stephen and James were both born in Ashbourne. Virtually as soon as they could walk, they were laying tables and tidying up for the stream of visitors we had.

We moved first to Mansfield, and then to the coal-mining village of New Ollerton in 1972.

Our home was seldom empty. Marina worked part-time at the local comprehensive school. So we had middle aged congregants with marital problems and disaffected teenagers ransacking the house at the same time.

Such was the nature of our work that Marina felt we should provide support, counsel and retreat to ministers and their parishioners on a permanent basis. We bought a derelict farmhouse which Marina named ‘Beth Shalom’ - House of Peace. It certainly was not the ‘House of Quiet.’

Beth Shalom was a retreat and conference centre. But as groups came and went, Marina’s gift for caring and counselling came to the fore, and the house became a place of respite, healing and support for many hundreds of people with personal and social problems. It was my pleasure to support her in that work.

In 1981 we went to Israel as a family. This was a turning point for us as a couple and a family. We enjoyed being in Israel, discovering some of our spiritual and theological roots in Judaism. A decade later when the boys shared desire to start a Holocaust Centre at Beth Shalom with Marina, she was enthusiastic to support them, knowing that they had important work to do. A few years later in 1995, the Beth Shalom Holocaust Centre was opened

Marina’s desire all along was that Beth Shalom should be a place of memory for the Holocaust survivors. As was always her principle, it should foremost be a place they could recognise as their own. A place to feel at home in.

I never imagined when I met that beautiful young girl in my office, that almost sixty years later I would love her just the same. I have had the privilege of sharing in her life. I have seen her give a hundred thousand hugs, everyone of them genuinely meant. I have seen her joys and her sorrows, her abounding energy, her sense of justice, her warmth and her hospitality. Words spring to mind; compassionate, caring, dynamic. She was an amazing mother to our two sons, but she also treats strangers as a mother would. I have heard people her own age talk about her as their ‘mother,’ as she cares, supports, chastises and prides herself in everyone’s success.

I know more than anyone else that what you see, is what you get… she was always the genuine thing. There is no other Marina than the one you cannot but help come to know and love.

Today she left me. I have been in the situation as a minister of religion where I have been the one comforting bereaved families. It is very hard for me to find that this time it is me that is bereaved of a person I wanted to be with until my dying day.

Every time I read Proverbs 31 about the ‘valiant wife’, I am certain in my heart of hearts that it was written especially for her.. which has made me the most privileged husband on earth.

We joked and laughed our whole life together and now there is silence. 

Rest in peace my sweet Marina. As I told you in the hospital this week. You have been the one and only woman in my life.

I have loved you always, and I always will.

Eddie

26 June 2022


A tribute by our Chairman Henry Grunwald OBE QC

Marina Smith MBE was the very definition of an “Eshet Chayil”, a true Woman of Worth.

She, her husband Eddie, and their sons, Stephen and James, founded Beth Shalom,  the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, in 1995. It is the only Holocaust centre anywhere in the world founded by a Christian family.   

I’ve known Marina for many years, first as a visitor to Beth Shalom, then as a Trustee and finally as its Chair.   She was a truly remarkable woman - short in stature but a giant in the way that she lived her life! Loved by all, not just by her immediate family, but by all whose lives she touched, especially her wider family, the survivors. When she entered a room, they all stood and rushed to hug and kiss her.   They did that because of what she had done for them, opening her heart and her home to them, becoming a family for those who had none and creating opportunities for them to tell their stories to the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Centre since it opened its doors.  Tea with Marina in Bethany, her home next to the Centre, was like having tea with the Queen Mother, except that the food was better at Bethany!   

As a qualified RE teacher, she was the first Director of Education at the Centre and understood the importance of shaping minds and attitudes of students not only to teach the lessons of the Holocaust but also to attempt to heal and repair Judeo/Christian relations in our fractured world.   When she stepped down from that role, she remained at the heart of the Centre, maintaining regular e-mail contact with our family of survivors to the very end, respected and beloved by them and by all our staff and volunteers.

My life was enriched by knowing her and I promise that the work she began will continue.  I will miss her calls and messages of support.   As she rests in the peace that she so richly deserves, our thoughts are not only with her but with all the Smith family.   

May her memory be a blessing to us all.