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The Living Survivors

While my mother was alive I would never have imagined going to hear a Holocaust survivor speak. The subject was taboo and any references were quickly swept under the carpet.  That was just how we dealt with it in my family. How strange then that in the past few months I have been to hear the testimonies of three Holocaust survivors. There were two things that all three had in common. They were all women and none of them held any hatred or bitterness for what had happened to them. All three women were incredibly positive and inspirational, brave, gracious, and just bloody well amazing!

The first of these wonderful ladies was Gena Turgel, a Polish Jew who survived a Death March to Plaszov, Auschwitz, Buchenwald and Bergen-Belsen. Gena went on to marry one of the British soldiers who liberated the final camp and who brought her to England. Gena has written her testimony in a book called I Light a Candle.

After hearing Gena speak I then went to listen to Eva Schloss, an Austrian Jew who survived two years in hiding in Holland and nine months in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp. Eva knew Anne Frank in Amsterdam and her mother married Anne's widowed father in 1958, making them effectively step-sisters. Eva wrote her testimony in Eva's Story published in 1988.

Last week I went to hear Lady Zahava Kohn talk about how she and her family survived Bergen-Belsen and to see some of the incredible items which her own mother had managed to keep hidden and were only found after her death in 2001.  Items such as work rotas from the camps, postcards received from the Dutch resistance, and the first aid kit given to all survivors after their release.  This evening was particularly poignant to me as Lady Zahava presents her story through her daughter Hephzibah, who was a friend of mine at primary school. Until relatively recently I had know idea that her mother was a Holocaust survivor, and she had no idea that my mother was also one. We just didn't talk about it in those days.  Lady Zahava's story is told in the book Fragments of a Lost Childhood.

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