The family of Lili Paul mourn her passing on May 13, 2021 in Voorhees NJ. Lili (93) was a devoted wife to Emil Paul and mother of three, Rita, David, and Neal.
Lili (née Kaila Goldner) was born in Mesorrsengorg, Romania (Transylvania) in 1928. She was one of 13 siblings. At the age of seven, her family fled due to rising anti-Semitism in the area. They escaped by a cattle-drawn family farm wagon; cattle were used as they were quieter to move through the dark night than their horses would have been. They eventually made their way to Budapest and managed to stay safe for a time, but local anti-Semitism and the horrors of the Holocaust eventually caught up with her family. When Lili was 16 her family was captured and sent to a ghetto, and soon after to the camps, where her parents and most of her siblings perished. Lili and one of her sisters, Henia, remained in Auschwitz for a total of 18 months, with time at two additional labor camps. Eventually, only five siblings survived Hitler’s master plan.
It was during the depths of despair in the camp that Lili’s relationship to butterflies was born. During her 18th month of imprisonment, one day she caught sight of a butterfly. Having had no experience of pleasure, beauty, or the joy of life over several months, Lili was overcome with excitement to see it and wanted to capture the creature. A fellow prisoner said no, let it be free – it was a sign that they would soon be free as well. Her words were prescient; approximately a week later, Lili was among those liberated from Auschwitz. This was in 1945 and she was just 17 and a half years old.
After weeks of walking toward freedom, including through the Austrian Alps during the winter, Lili eventually found herself in a displaced persons camp in Ledispoli, Italy, where she met Emil across a field while the boys were playing soccer. Their connection was immediate; they were soon married. From Italy they went to Cyprus, where they lived in tents while waiting for authorization to travel to Palestine. At 7 ½ months pregnant, she embarked with her husband on a ship to Haifa, but after days of the being held in port, the ship was turned away. Back in Cyprus, she gave birth to her firstborn, Rita.
Just after Rita’s birth, Lili and Emil were able to return to Haifa on the first boat from Cyprus. This time the boat was allowed to dock. Lili and Emil were among the very first refugees to arrive and begin building the state of Israel. Golda Meir was on the ground to greet them, give rifles and teach them how to use them, and teach them other survival skills. Together with Emil’s brothers, they worked with David Ben Gurion and others to begin building Israel, one dwelling at a time. They spent time first in the northern part of Israel, including in Tiberias, where David was born in 1949. At Ben Gurion’s urging, the couple later settled in an area of the Negev desert that became Nir Hen; Neal was the first male to be born there (1958), hence his name Nir (i.e. Neal).
In late 1959, Lili and Emil decided to join Emil’s brothers in the United States, and they made the move to Philadelphia where they continued to raise their family. Emil worked as a businessman and Lili took care of the house and family. In addition to Philadelphia, they spent some years in Zanesville, OH, where Emil had a pottery company, and later settled in southern New Jersey.
Lili was devastated by the loss of her beloved husband in 2011. She remained in her home in Marlton, NJ after his death, where she played bingo and saw friends, but never stopped missing her beloved Emil.
Lili is survived by her daughter Rita Sheehan (husband Ed Sheehan) and grandson Todd; her son Neal Paul, granddaughter Katie Seidel, and great grandson Parker David Seidel; and sister Henia Szapshwvitz and brother Shlomo Goldner, who remain in Israel.
Services were held at Platt Memorial Chapels in Cherry Hill, NJ. Interment Crescent Memorial Park, Pennsauken, NJ.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Jewish Family Services. The family is immensely grateful to Jewish Family Services for the many years of care and love they provided to Lili.
Jewish Family and Children’s Service of Southern New Jersey
1301 Springdale Road
Cherry Hill, NJ 08003
Tribute cards may be made at www.jfcssnj.org