Sept. 15, 1926 – March 7, 2017
Vera Coppard-Leibovic had a cause, to educate others about the horrors of the Holocaust, and nothing would stop her from sharing her own experiences, as one of about 10,000 children to escape the Nazis on the Kindertransport trains.
A couple of months ago, when her health worsened, she insisted that if others wanted her to be included in an upcoming Buffalo News photo feature on Holocaust survivors, she would have to be photographed “sooner rather than later,” according to her husband, K. Nicholas Leibovic.
So Coppard-Leibovic sat for a lengthy photo session four weeks ago. She will be included in that feature, but she died last week, on March 7, in Hospice Buffalo following a lengthy illness. She was 90.
Her decision said a lot about her character and her commitment.
“She was a realist,” Nicholas Leibovic said. “She had a sense of herself, what she could do and couldn’t do, but she always tried to push the limits. She was strong and indomitable.”
Coppard-Leibovic’s final gift to the history of the Holocaust continued her efforts from recent years, when she spoke mostly to middle- and high-school students about her own experiences, as part of the local Holocaust Resource Center’s Speakers Bureau.
“She wanted to make sure she could contribute something to an important story,” her husband said. “She believed very strongly in keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, so that people wouldn’t forget how cruel one person could be to another.”
Coppard-Leibovic escaped the Nazi atrocities as part of a triumph of the human spirit, the Kindertransport that allowed those 10,000 children to flee over 10 months in 1938-39.
For three days, the 12-year-old Vera and her mother waited in line for a permit to take the train out of Germany. Later, she and her father were ushered into a room where 100 children were waiting to take the Kindertransport.
In each corner of the room, a Nazi stood guard with a German shepherd. After all 100 names were read, two children were left. Their mother became hysterical. So the four Nazis unleashed their dogs on the woman, before the children were rushed out of the room.
“What pain that woman must have gone through to take her children to the Kindertransport and find out that they weren’t on it,” Coppard-Leibovic told The Buffalo News in 2009.
“All I remember were the woman’s screams and the dogs tearing at her clothing.”
Seventy years later, the sight of a German shepherd still brought back that vivid image.
Another permanent visual image dated to 1935, when Coppard-Leibovic was 9. Eight to 10 men in Nazi brownshirts broke through the lock on her family’s front door, when her father was away at a medical meeting. The men told her mother they had come to find papers hidden in the garden.
“Here are the spades,” her mother replied. “You do the digging.”
Three of the men forced her mother into the corner, holding rifles on her.
“That’s a picture that never will go out of my mind,” Coppard-Leibovic said in 2009. “Whether it was smashing windows or kicking someone who was Jewish, it was degradation all the way along, because we were not considered human beings.”
Born in Berlin, Coppard-Leibovic later lived in London, marrying and raising two daughters. A patron of the arts, she worked at the Annely Juda Gallery and with organizations that advocated for United Kingdom support to the United Nations and offered legal, financial and immigration advice to needy British citizens. After retirement, she started a travel business.
Coppard-Leibovic was a frequent traveler and moved to Amherst in 2000 after becoming re-acquainted with Leibovic, an old friend from London, after both their spouses had died. They married in 2005.
In Buffalo, she continued to make her hand-printed silk scarves, which she sold in the Albright-Knox Art Gallery gift shop and various boutiques. She devoted her time to the Holocaust Resource Center, speaking to students and adults and sitting for interviews and web productions to preserve her story.
Coppard-Leibovic’s first husband, Ossia Coppard, died in 1979, after 34 years of marriage.
Surviving, besides Leibovic, a University at Buffalo biophysics professor emeritus, are two daughters, Sandra Linford and Julia Galliers; four grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.
Leibovic hopes to schedule a celebration of her life sometime this spring or summer, when friends and relatives no doubt will recall her resolve to tell her story until her final breath.
As she said in 2009, on the 70th anniversary of the Kindertransport, “I doubt if I’ll be around for the 100th anniversary, but if I am, I’ll still be telling my story.”
– Gene Warner