A Penniless Baroness Sits in a Hospital Bed in NYC

The 'NYT' pieces together what it can about Birgit Thyssen-Bornemisza
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 22, 2022 10:00 AM CDT
A Penniless Baroness Sits in a Hospital Bed in NYC
Stock photo.   (Getty Images / EllenaZ)

"She had spent decades working to be invisible, to avoid ties to institutions, public or private. Now it was catching up to her." So write George Rush and John Leland in a fascinating piece for the New York Times on Birgit Thyssen-Bornemisza, an 80-year-old German baroness whose stepfather gave her that title and a life of wealth, but who suffered an apparent stroke and now occupies Room 23 of Mount Sinai West in New York City. She has a $600,000 hospital bill and "no Social Security number, no insurance, no identifiable source of income, no immediate relatives." She can't be moved until a nursing home or rehab facility agrees to take her, but she has no known money or Medicaid to facilitate that. In explaining how Birgit ended up where she is, Rush and Leland piece together what they can from historical records and a guardianship court hearing.

Born in 1942, her mother married the son of one of Europe's richest men four years later. Birgit's stepfather long maintained he had no Nazi ties (a claim that has been questioned), and they left Germany in 1948 for Monte Carlo, then Cuba, then landed at New York's Plaza Hotel in 1961. After her stepfather's death in 1981, Birgit and her mother were inseparable and isolated, "taking hourslong walks in matching outfits from Bergdorf’s and Saks." Birgit had no known friends or lovers. She didn't work or get involved with charity, but she did paint. Her mother refused to get health insurance and suffered a stroke in 2002, dying a short time later; the hospital bills ate up the women's money. (Read the fascinating full story to learn what happened to Birgit in the 20 years since.)

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