Elisabeth Maxwell, née Elisabeth Jenny Jeanne Meynard, was born near Saint-Alban-de-Roche in the Dauphiné region of southeastern France, to a family descended from Huguenot aristocrats. She studied law at the Sorbonne in Paris and wanted to become an elementary school teacher. In 1944, after the Liberation of Paris during World War II, she was working as an interpreter for the Allies when she met Captain Robert Maxwell, a Czech-born British army officer. They married in 1945 and had nine children together. She worked first as her husband's secretary and assistant in London as he established his media and publishing empire, then in public relations. She also campaigned for his six years as a Member of Parliament in the 1960s. In 1970, she enrolled at Oxford University to earn a BA degree in modern languages at Oxford University and completed a doctorate in 1981 at age 60 with a thesis called "The Art of Letter Writing in France, 1789-1830." Her passion for Holocaust remembrance and better Jewish-Christian relations emerged from research into her husband's Jewish relatives killed by the Nazis for a family tree for her children. She went on to edit two books on the Holocaust and found the journal Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Her autobiography, A Mind of My Own: My Life with Robert Maxwell, was published in 1994.