Lili had world scoop on Bay of Pigs - but no one believed her

ALEX ZATMAN chats to a refugee from the Nazis who went on to become a top journalist

LILI Loebl is the woman who unearthed a plot to replace Cuba's leader Fidel Castro with a leader and government friendly to the West.

The plot eventually led to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion - and Lili, a sprightly UN correspondent, had discovered it before the rest of the world.

But being a woman at a time when the fairer sex were seen and not heard, her editor at Newsweek took no notice of the major scoop of her career.

Despite never having planned it, Lili found herself reporting from the United Nations at a time of upheaval across the world.

The Cold War was at its dramatic zenith and former European colonies were embracing independence.

But the unassuming Jewish girl from Bamberg, Germany, was at the centre of it all, wining and dining with the world's leaders.

And decades later, Lili has chronicled her escapades in Don't Ask Me Where I Come From: How a Refugee from Nazi Germany Became a UN Correspondent.

Following a brief stint at Reuters news agency and Woman's Own in London, Lili - armed with a number of languages - landed herself a job at Newsweek which launched her into the backrooms and parties of the United Nations.

Her big break came when she was asked to interview the prime minister of the new nation of Congo, owing to her fluent grasp of French.

"Newsweek gave me a chance," she said.

"It was the height of the Cold War and Patrice Lumumba had to be interviewed and I spoke French.

"It was an absolutely phenomenal time - so many crazy things were happening.

"Lumumba had signed over the entire wealth of the Congo to one man. His foreign minister told me this and I urged him to reconsider."

Her friendship with the Congolese leadership grew to such an extent that she was offered a role in the cabinet. She politely declined.

But her finest hour came when the world was close to imploding with the weight of its own distrust.

Lili was sent on assignment to Miami, home to many expat Cubans, where she unearthed a plot to oust Fidel Castro's Communist government under orders from the White House.

"This was my great moment," she joyfully recalled.

"I went to Miami and I went underground.

"I was given a list of everything that was happening in Cuba - the missiles and the Russian ships that were unloading, everything.

"I sent a telegram to my editor, who filed it away."

Much to her dismay, her claims were effectively dismissed, something she puts down to a lack of respect for women at the time.

"The Bay of Pigs was my scoop, but because I was a woman it was filed away," Lili said.

Her early life was punctured by the frenzy of Nazism and a frantic escape to England.

"We were from a small Jewish community in Germany," the octogenarian said.

"The community was successful and there was only one synagogue that we all went to."

But, unbeknown to her, Lili was about to "be thrust into a maelstrom of uncontrollable events".

Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 and misfortune snowballed.

Soon their non-Jewish neighbours crossed the road to avoid contact with the town's Jewish residents.

"We were not allowed to go to ordinary schools," she recalled. "We were herded into the synagogue school."

English aristocrats Sir Robert Dunlop and his wife Lady Dunlop, whom the family met in the Swiss ski resort of Champéry in the summer of 1937, were their saviours.

Lady Dunlop and Lili's mother hatched an audacious plan.

The two were avid philatelists and decided that should the family be in danger in Germany, Lili's mother would simply post her highly-prized Black Bavarian stamp to Lady Dunlop.

The English aristocrat, "who could not understand why we went back in to Germany in 1937", would then launch a rescue effort.

Her father tried to delay the inevitable as long as he could, refusing to believe that Hitler's popularity was a danger to his family and his people.

"He thought it was a passing disease, " explained Lili.

Once the situation became too grave, even for Lili's father, the family alerted the Dunlops, who duly set in motion the convoluted process of prizing the Loebls away from Germany.

One by one, her immediate family made their way across Europe to land in England.

And on "practically the last train to depart", the eight-year-old Lili and her mother made it to the Promised Land of Britain, via Amsterdam.

They had been stripped of all their valuable possessions and were heading into the unknown, but the Nazis could no longer take the most vital possession - freedom.

The family's life in Germany had been one of comfort; her father ran a successful export factory, but in England "with no money and little status it seemed difficult to imagine where we could go".

While they set out to make a new life in a new country, Lili's grandmothers - Lila and Rosalie - perished in Treblinka and Auschwitz concentration camps, she would later discover.

The Loebls settled immediately in Newcastle - her father and his brother had been given a visa on the proviso that they create jobs in the North - "where the locals treated us well".

But the transient nature of her existence left Lili lost in a new world.

"I forgot what normal was, and felt bewildered and insecure," she explained. "I wondered why life had become so temporary, why we had to keep wandering from place to place."

Fittingly, her father signed his Oath of Allegiance on November 9, 1946 - the eighth anniversary of Kristallnacht.

Just three years later, he collapsed on the platform at Birmingham's train station awaiting his train to return from a trade fair and died of a heart attack.

Having graduated from King's College, London, Lili spent time in Paris and on Kibbutz Sasa in the north of Israel, where she would have taken up permanent residence had it not been for her mother.

She said: "I loved it, but my mother insisted I return home.

"I couldn't stay there, I could not do that to my mother. She would not have come over.

"I only discovered a love for the country when I was there. Really, the only reason I went there was because I was bored.

"For the first time I had a feeling of being at home, a feeling that I didn't have to explain myself.

"I felt being a Jew was comfortable in Israel."

Impossible for her to stay in Israel, she followed her mother to Texas before New York and Newsweek came calling.

She went on to report on the birth pangs of the Ivory Coast and the assassinations of UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjold and American president John Kennedy before settling in St John's Wood, London, with her husband Cecil, himself a celebrated child psychiatrist.

They had three children before Cecil died from Parkinson's disease in June, 2008.

Don't Ask Me Where I Come From: How a Refugee from Nazi Germany Became a UN Correspondent is published tomorrow by Book Guild Ltd and priced at £17.99

© 2011 Jewish Telegraph