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Judith Magyar Isaacson 

Judith Isaacson

Judith Magyar Isaacson is an educator, a well-known author, a champion of equal opportunity for women, and a human-rights advocate whose passion was forged by her experiences in the Holocaust.

She was born in Kaposvar, Hungary, in 1925. When she was 19, her family was deported to Auschwitz­Birkenau, where her grandmothers and an aunt were gassed upon arrival. From there, Judith, her mother, Rozsa, and her aunt Magda Rosenberger were sent to a slave labor camp in Hessisch Lichtenau, a satellite of Buchenwald. They lost the rest of their family in the Holocaust, including Judith's father, Jeno, who perished at MiihldorfLager. Miraculously, the three women were liberated together in Leipzig by American forces in April 1945.

Judith met Irving Isaacson, a captain in the U.S. Army Office of Strategic Services, a month later. They married that year and came to the United States in 1946. Today Judith and Irving, an attorney, have three children and seven grandchildren.

Judith Isaacson earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics at Bates College in 1965 and a master's in math at Bowdoin College two years later. She taught math at Lewiston High School and then at Bates, where she became the dean of women in 1969 and dean of students in 1975.

As dean, Isaacson was instrumental in ending practices biased against women - for example, in athletics and in separate, drastically unequal codes of conduct for men and women. At the same time, she emerged as a public advocate of women's rights. She continued to work for those rights as a member of the Bowdoin College Board of Overseers from 1984 to 1996.

In 1976, after discussing her wartime experiences with a group of students, Isaacson was moved to record those memories. Seed of Sarah: Memoirs of a Survivor was published by the University of Illinois Press in 1990. It won glowing notices in The New York Times Book Review and The Boston Globe, was placed on the New York Public Library's "Books for the Teen Age" list, and became a valued source for Holocaust research and women's studies. Isaacson's papers are available to researchers at the Edmund S. Muskie Archives and Special Collections Library at Bates.

Seed of Sarah has appeared in German and Hungarian translations, and was adapted by Maine composer Mark Polishook for an opera and subsequent film. The book continues to sell worldwide and has brought increasing demand for Isaacson's services as a speaker. She has appeared frequently before student groups and other audiences to share her memories and speak out for fair and equal treatment of all people.

In addition to her board service to Bowdoin College, Isaacson has served on the governing boards of the Auburn Public Library, Central Maine Medical Center, and the CMMA Nursing School. She has received honorary doctorates from Bates, Colby College, and the University of New England; and received both the University of New England's Deborah Morton Award and the Hargraves Preservation of Freedom Prize, established at Bowdoin to stimulate appreciation of Constitutional rights and freedoms.

Most important, Seed of Sarah over the years has become an enduring inspiration of courage and resilience for young women and men.

2004 Photograph

Inducted March, 2004