from Hungarian Wikipedia
Translated by Julianna Grant
Lilly Steinschneider (full name: Helene Lilly Steinschneider-Wenckheim) (Budapest, 13th
January 1891 - Geneva, 28th March 1975), pilot. The first female pilot of Hungary and of the Austro-Hungarian
She was the second child of a wealthy Austro-Hungarian Jewish bourgeois family. Some believe she was born in 1890. The family had a famous furniture and bedding factory, which was founded by grandfather Jacob in the Hungarian town of Komárom. According to a family story, even the Empress Sissi has once visited their shop, but it was a fact that they were the suppliers of bedding to the Imperial Court. Her father Berthold later established his own business.
Her mother was Irma Wohl from Bohemia. She had three known siblings, although according to an old newspaper article there were five of them, her brother Hugo had died in infancy, younger brother Friedrich was a composer and committed suicide when young, while her younger sister Margaret has changed her name to Szabó and we know nothing of the fifth sibling, suggesting another early death in infancy. Her name on the birth register is Ilka but the world only knew her as Lilly.
It was after the international aviation contest held in Budapest in the summer of 1910 had a strong impression on her that she decided to become a pilot. By 1912 she was seen in the cockpit of famous aviators as some competition tasks demanded the presence of a passenger. Her light frame and enthusiasm for flying helped her to take part in several distance and altitude record attempts. She won a distance flight with Joseph Sablatnig, who became famous for the first night flight. In this flight they covered 168km over Gerasdorf, Großenzersdorf és Deutsch-Wagram.
Lilly learnt to fly in Wiener Neustadt from Karl Illner on an Etrich Taube aeroplane. She held pilot licence no. 4. which she received on 15th August 1912. This licence can be seen exhibited in the history of flying section of the Museum of Transport in Budapest in the Pet?fi Csarnok. This date can also be seen on Lilly's necklace showing an aeroplane, decorated with precious stones. At her examination for the licence Colonel Uzelac, commandant of the military airship section of Austria-Hungary, Lieutenant Knirsch and Illner himself represented the committee.
After she passed the exam the newly qualified pilot had taken Colonel Uzelac up with her, according to newpapers of the time, to a height of 1800 metres. She took part in several air shows and races both in Hungary and in Austria: the Hungarian Aviation Union organised a large contest on 20th August 1912 at the rákosi airfield. Lilly Schteinschneider is amongst the entrants of this contest. However, her plans were thwarted by an unfortunate event: her Etrich machine, which she gained her pilot licence in had not arrived on time, thus robbing the public of the chance to see the first female pilot in action.
Her first public flight had finally happened in Nagyvárad on 6th October 1912 where she flew at a height of 50-60 metres. After landing she received a standing ovation from the approximately 2000 spectators who carried her on their shoulders to the hangar.
The greatest aviation sensation of the year 1913 was the second International Flying Week which was held in Aspern, near Vienna between 15th and 17th June. Preparations were on the way a week before, the grandstands were decorated, but most importantly the pilots arrived early and started to put together their aeroplanes. A sum total of 140,000 crowns were distributed amongst the participants. For the first time two lady pilots also took part in the contest: Madame Pallier, representing France and Lilly Steinschneider in Austrian colours. In 1913, at the St. Stephen's Day aviation race in Pest, held at the rákosi airfield, Lilly was very successful to the great satisfaction of the spectators present. On landing she hit a sand bar and her machine was damaged, but she got out and left totally uninjured. According to the official results of the race, the young lady pilot won the speed event, came second in the continuous flying race (6 minutes and 15 seconds), and in the event of the total time spent in the air (10 minutes 7 seconds).
Lilly's excellent flying skills drew the attention of an Austrian aviation outfit who offered her a job. However, the well off young aviator had different ideas, thus this job didn't last long. On 16th March 1914, the Motor-Luftfahrzeug GmbH sent Lilly a letter of termination advising her that they no longer needed her services.
She took part in many air shows with Antal Lányi, whom she was probably romantically involved with. However, this romance suddenly stopped at the outbreak of World War I. Lilly offers her services to the War Ministry, but in spite the fact that she had her own aeroplane, unlike most of the pilots at that time. Financed by her father, he made sure that the ministry declined her offer. Judging from photographs of the time, this adventurous young lady had to be satisfied with a short stint as a nurse in World War I.
In 1914 she married Count Johannes Evangelist Virgilio Coudenhove-Kalergi von Ronspergheim (brother of Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi) and moved to her husband's estate in Bohemia. On request from her husband she severed all relations with her own family and only met her younger sister Margaret and her mother secretly.
She stopped flying. One of the reasons for this must have been that after the outbreak of World War I civilian flying was discontinued. Lilly received a very polite letter in September 1915 from the Imperial Aviation Union reminding her to pay her overdue membership fees.
The young couple had to wait for quite a while for the birth of their first child. Finally, their daughter was born on 22nd June 1927 in Prague and received - according to family tradition - a large number of Christian names: Maria Electa Thecla Elisabeth Christina Helena Sophia. From their later, very affectionate private correspondence, we can glean that the little girl was simply called Pixie within the family. Their much awaited child's birth occasioned the issue of a memorial medal by the family. On the picture in the microfilm collection of the Hungarian National Archives the little girl is about 9 or 10 years old and one can clearly see her quarter Japanese ancestry.
By 1939 Lilly's aristocratic family became impoverished and Lilly travelled to Italy with her daughter to escape the approaching Nazi threat. There she became ill and struggled to survive in poverty. In spite of this, she kept up her loving warm correspondence with her husband, showing no sign of their later divorce. It is more than likely that she was forced to live apart from her husband due to her Jewish origins. Her husband issued a separation declaration on 18th August 1943.
After World War II, she lived in retirement in the South of France. She was divorced from her husband in 1960. The Coudenhove family tree quotes her death having occurred on 29th March 1975 in Geneva. (According to different sources she died in Nice in 1977 and is also buried there.) In Wiener Neustadt, where aged 21 she gained her pilot's licence, they named a street after her.