She turned 100 on March 19, but that milestone is far from what Lisel Judge considers her greatest accomplishment. That would be her flair for the foil.
Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Judge fell in love with the popular European sport of fencing at age 8. After winning a German national championship, she easily qualified for the 1936 German Olympic Fencing Team. But when Adolf Hitler found out her father was Jewish, she was removed from the team immediately.
Judge moved to the United States, where she became a highly successful fencing coach at Brandeis University for 35 years. She led three of her teams to national championships and was inducted into the University’s Hall of Fame in 1996.
“My proudest achievement in fencing was representing Brandeis at Nationals,” Judge said.
Judge moved from Boston in 1981 to Boca Raton’s Edgewater Pointe Estates, where she enjoys “the very helpful and caring staff.” She said it is the best place to retire.
During her youth, however, she suffered through the Nazi regime. She will never forget the night she fled a life that lived in fear. In 1938, Judge, along with her baby Barbara and husband Peter Oppenheim, boarded a train in the middle of the night. She wasn’t sure about her destination, but she knew she had to get away if she ever wanted to live a peaceful life,
“When we boarded the train to leave Germany, we didn’t know where we were going,” Judge said. “We stopped in the middle of nowhere and I bribed the Nazi officer with a bracelet and watch to stay on the train toward safety.”
Despite her trials, she never gave up chasing her dream. When she got to America, she taught fencing lessons at various private schools in Massachusetts before landing at Brandeis.
In more than three decades coaching fencing, she “achieved what I wanted to do”. She also cherished the many friendships she made with her students over the years.
Ironically, for Judge, the most challenging aspect of coaching was teaching the girls the hunger for winning.
“The most difficult thing to teach them was physical and mental movement,” she said.
She remains passionate about fencing in the Olympics and enjoyed watching the competition this summer. It reminds her of all she has accomplished in the sport in the face of incredible odds.
Judge also has a lifelong love of music. Her last husband, Henry Aaron, was an orchestra conductor, and she learned and absorbed everything he did concerning music.
As she celebrates her 100th year, she is most appreciative for her family. She has three children, and “many” grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Most of her family lives in Boston and Las Vegas.
“I am very grateful to be healthy,” Judge said. “I’m also grateful that my children and grandchildren love me.”
Faran Fagen, Special to The Palm Beach Post