Magda Levy

Magda Fischel Levy, 97, Dies;

Pioneering Maxillofacial Prosthetician, Artist and Holocaust Survivor

She drew on her experience as a Holocaust survivor and sculptress to work in the early age of plastics to provide reconstructive maxillofacial prosthetics for cancer survivors.

Magda Fischel Levy, a Hungarian Holocaust survivor, artist, and maxillofacial prosthetician who devoted her career to providing reconstructive facial prosthetics for cancer survivors, died on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. She was 97.

Born in Budapest, Hungary in October 1922 to Moses and Sarah (Freund) Fischel, Magda knew from the age of seven that she wanted to be a surgeon. But Hungary’s laws preventing Jews from attending university, and the Nazi occupation upended those dreams. Losing her father to the Nazis, Magda waited out the Nazi and Russian occupation of Hungary studying sculpture at a Catholic school with false papers that identified her as Catholic, where she studied under Hungarian sculptor András Osze.

Following the end of the war in 1945, Magda attended university for a few months – just long enough to obtain a passport to Austria on her way to an Italian displaced persons (DP) camp. For the next several years, Magda became one of a generation of Eastern European wanderers. Upon her original arrival in Italy, she was deported back to Austria because “people with valid passports couldn’t stay in DP camps.” So, Magda plotted her illegal return to Italy with a guide to lead a nighttime trek over the Alps, a trek made more arduous in heels.

In Italy, Magda received her first formal training in sculpting at the Academia Albertina di Belle Arte, in Torino. There she began a six-year period that proved to be the most prolific period of her sculpting career. She was ultimately able to emigrate to Cuba and join her sister and brother in New York. During this time, she continued sculpting and exhibiting her work, first in Italy, then in Havana (where her sculptures were exhibited in a one-artist show to critical acclaim) and later, in New York City. Magda devoted herself to her art and to her work in a medical laboratory until she met her husband, the late Michel Levy (whom she married on February 3, 1951), and had her first child in 1952. She continued sculpting and exhibiting her sculptures in New York City until sometime after the birth of her third child in 1957, at which time she was encouraged to help a friend fashion a prosthetic.

This friend couldn’t afford a prosthetic hand because only two people in New York City were in the private business of making prosthetics. (Everyone else specializing in the new field was working for the Veterans’ Administration assisting World War II veterans.) The woman urged Magda to consider helping and Magda agreed to look into it. By searching through the New York City directory, Magda found the two private prostheticians and contacted them to inquire about training, both of whom responded coldly. Magda’s anger was evident by her response; she told one of the prostheticians, “I don’t care if you teach me or not; I’m going to learn.”

Magda pursued her own direct contacts with the head of the Veterans’ Administration, began working with scientists at chemical companies whose laboratories were experimenting in the new field of plastics and foams, and took it on herself to perfect her art of sculpting faces for those suffering facial deformities, typically cancer survivors.

Although she never became a surgeon, Magda Levy’s facial reconstructive work at medical centers such as Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital, New York University, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center produced results that received great acclaim in the United States and abroad. Ultimately, she taught and lectured around the United States and abroad, teaching at MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas in Houston, in Sao Paulo, Brazil and lecturing in England. Magda excelled in the field of maxillofacial prosthetics, partly due to her sensitivity for the frailty of the human spirit – a sensitivity borne of her experiences in Hungary – and her expertise as an artist, sculpting realistic representations of human anatomy.

Magda was forced to retire in 1984 as the result of macular degeneration and, upon the loss of her husband that same year, moved to the Washington, D.C. area and later, Menlo Park, California to be near one of her daughters. For the past 35 years, she has enjoyed time with her children and grandchildren, reading books on tape, and visiting art galleries.

Magda Fischel Levy passed away Wednesday at St. Elizabeth Manor in Bristol, RI. She is survived by her children, Diana Levy (Len Daley) of Tiverton, RI, Joseph M. Levy, MD of Chicago, IL and Lil Johnson (Todd) of Menlo Park, CA and her four grandchildren, Nia and Kaytia King and Sara and Emily Johnson. She was the sister of the late Eugene Fischel, MD and Edith Imre.

Funeral services and shiva will be private. In lieu of flowers, contributions in her memory may be made to: USC’s Shoah Foundation, founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994 and dedicated to making audiovisual interviews of survivors and witnesses of the Holocaust; or Doctors Without Borders, providing medical care where it is most needed.


  1. Pamela
    Mar 30, 2020

    I never had the privilege of knowing this wonderful and amazing woman, but in reading about her, she most certainly had a rich and rewarding life! She overcame so much, and never let anything or anyone defeat her! What a beautiful legacy to leave behind; and even in her physical death, she is still touching souls and making a difference. My condolences to Magda Levy’s family and friends, and may her memory be eternal. Shalom

  2. Mark
    Apr 2, 2020

    Out of all of my visits to her skilled nursing home, I grew closest to Magda.

    Her living history was fascinating plus she seemed to enjoy getting a reaction from me. One vivid example was when she stated: “I loved Mussolini.” Then she explained that before the war, all were allowed to University regardless of faith, including her brother who studied to become a doctor.

    She was also patient in a way, trying to teach me the Baruch. I could sing other blessings like the Sh’ma, but was not taught the Baruch until I after I grew close to Magda.

    I miss her already.



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