Henry School legend who fled Nazi Germany dies at 94


Eve R. Oshtry, a Holocaust survivor and retired teacher who taught at the Charles W. Henry School where she was beloved by students and parents, and won Philadelphia’s Teacher of the Year Award twice during her 27 years at the Mt. Airy school, died Feb. 24 of age-related ailments. Oshtry, who lived in Mt. Airy for many years before moving to Fairmount, was 94.

Oshtry was born in Berlin, Germany, where her father led the city’s largest Jewish library. In 1938, Oshtry, who was born Eve Pessen, was walking to school when she saw her school engulfed in flames, set on fire by the Nazis. Firefighters stood by and let it burn, said Oshtry’s son Danny, an attorney. In 1939, the family escaped Germany and traveled to England, and later to the U.S.  

Oshtry attended Temple University on a full scholarship. Her children said she could not have gone to college without the scholarship. After graduation from Temple, Eve became a social worker for the city of Philadelphia and later a kindergarten teacher. While working at Henry School, parents would regularly ask for their children to be in her class, and we were told this would embarrass Eve because she was so modest and humble.

“She had an abiding calm and an unending interest in other people. Just to be in her presence was calming for me. She affected so many others that same way,” said son Joel, also an attorney. “When she was growing up in Nazi Germany, she was told not to do anything that would draw attention to herself. She told us about signs in a park in Berlin that said 'Judenrein' ('cleansed of Jews'). Her dad and brother went into hiding, and they eventually went to Liverpool, where they often had to run to bomb shelters to escape the Nazis' bombing.”

For 68 years, Oshty was married to Norman Oshtry, an attorney, and they lived on Lincoln Drive near Mt. Airy Avenue for many decades, although they lived in the Philadelphian Condominiums near the Art Museum at the end of their lives. (On a personal note, Norman, a wonderful human being who died June 29, 2022, at the age of 96, went way out of his way to help me, pro bono, to resolve a serious legal issue in early 1967.)

“They had a deep love and respect for each other,” Danny said “and she was an institution at the Henry School. She was so beloved and admired. An Inquirer article called her 'a legend in her own time.' She was an extraordinary teacher. I'd visit her at work, and that's when I really began to admire her. When she told the kids I was her son, they treated me like a celebrity. That filled me with joy. We were on a road trip when I announced I had ESP (extra-sensory perception). She held up a card, and I got it right. She did not know it, but I was able to see the card in the reflection of her sunglasses. She was so impressed that she then took a class in ESP.”

For 15 years, Oshtry was also director of the Allens Lane Day Camp and the Allens Lane Festival of the Lively Arts. “She wasn't a big laugher, but occasionally she would erupt,” Danny said, “like sometimes we were watching the Carol Burnett Show, and she would lose it and just laugh so loud. She took pains not to spoil us but also to make sure we had everything we needed. She was not perfect, but she was closer to it than anyone I have ever known.” 

During the moving funeral service on Feb. 28 at Joseph Levine & Sons in Blue Bell, Sheila Krumholz, Danny's wife, said, “I loved Eve. I should've had Botox so I would not be crying now. I'm from a small town in the Midwest, and Eve was so worldly and urbane and intellectually curious. You felt so 'seen' in her presence. She was so kind and patient. I don't know why it took me so long to say 'I love you' to her. She did so much for so many and for humanity. It was a huge blessing to know her. A shining light has been extinguished. She left the world a better place than she found it.”

Lisa Hostein, Joel Oshtry's wife, said, “I struck gold with Eve as a mother-in-law. I met her 40 years ago, and she said I was the daughter she never had. She was one of the most generous, genuine people I have ever known. Eve and Norman took care of us so well, even when we were adults. And she never failed to show gratitude. She brought a ray of sunshine into our lives.” 

Mark Hekster, Eve's cousin who came from his home in London, England, to be at the funeral service, said, “Other than my own parents, Eve and Norman were the most important people in the world to me. I became a clinical psychologist because of Eve. She was the kindest of souls. She had a warm heart and gentle embrace, and I carry that with me.”

Oshtry enjoyed nature, gardening and travel, especially Elderhostel trips. Her last years were very difficult, but several speakers at the funeral service gave extravagant praise to her primary caregiver, Rashid Kamara. “She loved him, and he loved her,” one said. “We will all be forever grateful to Rashid.” 

Len Lear can be reached at lenlear@chestnuthilllocal.com