Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

News > Alumnae > Holocaust Memorial Day: Remembering OQ Sofka Skipwith

Holocaust Memorial Day: Remembering OQ Sofka Skipwith

27th of January is Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day in 1945 Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was liberated by the Allies. Today, we are remembering OQ Sofka Skipwith who saved the lives of over 50 Jews.
27 Jan 2021
Written by Afiyah Alim
Image: "Women of Valor" Stories of Women Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust
Image: "Women of Valor" Stories of Women Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust

Sofka Skipwith (1904-1994), writer, translator and political activist, attended Queen’s College, London in 1919. She was born into nobility and was sometimes nicknamed ‘The Red Princess’. Raised between Nice, Paris, Rome, Budapest, Bath and London, she 'thoroughly enjoyed' going to school at Queen's, where she earned her College Certificate. She continued her studies in France and passed the 'Certificat d'Etudes Secondaires' before qualifying as shorthand-typist. Following this, she worked in London as a secretary for the Duchess of Hamilton and then for Laurence Olivier. 

During the war, Sofka travelled between London and Paris to visit her mother; however, after the German occupation of northern France, she was unable to return to London. In November 1940, Sofka and all women with British passports who attended an anti-Nazi demonstration were transported to eastern France and imprisoned in barracks in Besançon, a civilian internee camp. In May 1941, 400 British subjects were then sent to the Vittel detention camp. This internment, from December 1940 to until August 1944, saw Sofka become a leading figure in the camp's life. She started and inspired cultural initiatives, a library service through the Red Cross, and organised public activities for everybody's benefit. She taught languages to other internees and she would meet with a small group to study Marx. 

Sofka would smuggle items, such as cigarettes, from Red Cross parcels to the French Resistance.  Most importantly, she sent messages to help people escape in tiny script on cigarette papers. Over forty years later, Sofka learnt that she had helped more than 50 Jews escape from the camp. She also helped an eleven-year-old escape, who was hidden by a local family, and managed to smuggle out a baby in a basket under a fence. 

After the war, Laurence Olivier called her back to The Old Vic, where she worked as a playreader, Russian advisor, co-producer, costume advisor and more. She was honoured for her efforts by both the British government and by Israel, where she has been named one of the Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel's memorial to the victims of the Holocaust. 

Similar stories

43 – 49 Harley Street,
London, W1G 8BT

020 7291 7000

Follow us on Social Media

This website is powered by