Holocaust survivor tells his story at QE
July 10, 2015
July 10, 2015
Holocaust survivor Steven Frank told the story of his family’s experiences under the Nazis in a special talk given to the whole of Year 9.
The boys gathered in the Main Hall for an entire afternoon to hear Mr Frank’s account of how life changed tragically and for ever for his parents and brothers after the Nazis invaded the Netherlands in 1940. Staff were also invited to attend.
Head of History Helen MacGregor said: “We wanted to devote plenty of time to Mr Frank’s talk so that boys were able to reflect fully on what he had to say. Mr Frank uses such visits to perpetuate the memory of the children who did not survive and of those who, like his father, spoke out against the Nazis and paid the ultimate price for their courage. It was, of course, a very sober occasion, but I know that the boys were tremendously appreciative and will now play their part in ensuring the Holocaust is never forgotten.”
At the time the Nazis invaded, Mr Frank was five years old and the family lived in Amsterdam. His father, Leonard, was a well-respected lawyer still in his thirties who sat on the board of a large hospital for the mentally ill. The family had offers to help them escape to Britain, but Leonard Frank was worried about the patients and refused to flee. Instead he became involved with underground activities and also spoke out publicly against the Nazis. At times, the family even hid people in their house.
In December 1942 Leonard Frank set off for work, but he never returned home. He was arrested by the Nazis and sent to a prison where he was interrogated for his underground activities.
Shortly after, Steven’s mother and brothers received notice that they were to be sent away. First they were taken to a prison camp for privileged prisoners because of Leonard’s connections, but eventually the four of them were sent to Westerbork transit camp – a holding place from where Dutch Jews were held until they were deported to camps in Eastern Europe.
After watching their friends and loved ones loaded on to trains and sent away, the Frank family were eventually deported to Theresienstadt ghetto camp in occupied Czechoslovakia in September 1944.
Theresienstadt was an old disused barracks and despite containing many permanent buildings, people were still forced to live in terrible conditions with little food or access to water. By the time they arrived, it was very overcrowded and disease flourished, killing thousands of people. Steven’s survival owed much to his mother. She got herself a job in the camp’s hospital laundry, one of the few places with regular (hot) water, where she secretly washed people’s clothes in exchange for scraps of bread. She mixed these with hot water and took this ‘bread porridge’ to her sons in a tin saucepan.
For many, Theresienstadt was just a stopping point – those who did not die from disease were usually transported to other camps to be gassed. Steven remembers the horrible scenes when the Nazis intentionally split up families so that those left behind were mentally tortured with the knowledge of what might be happening to their loved ones.
Fortunately for his family, the war ended before they were deported: he and his brothers are three of only 93 children who survived Theresienstadt out of the 15,000 children who were sent there.
Steven never saw his father after he was arrested. Leonard Frank was deported from the prison in the Netherlands to Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland, where he was gassed. He was only 39 years of age.
After the war Steven, his brothers and mother moved to England to try and rebuild their lives. For the past 18 years, he has been telling his story to groups all over the UK with the Holocaust Educational Trust. He is pictured showing some pupils a piece of yellow cloth printed with the Jewish Star of David from which the 'bdges' were made that Jewish people were required to wear in Nazi Germany.