OPINION: Marking VE Day as a Holocaust survivor – a very different story

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OPINION: Marking VE Day as a Holocaust survivor – a very different story

As Britain remembers victory over Nazi Germany, Steven Frank remembers being starving in Theresienstadt as his British-born mother heard Winston Churchill announcing the end of war

Steven Frank
Steven Frank

As the people of the UK celebrate and commemorate VE day on the 8th May 75 years ago, Seniors here will recall the joy and dancing in the streets, the relief, the comradeship of the community all around.

But for me it was a different story.

On the 8th May we were starving to death any hope of normality gone.  People dying all around us. One had become desensitized to death. How long could we still hang in there? That was my 8th May 1945.

My mother returning from the camp hospital laundry where she worked on that particular day was approached by some Russian POW’s who knew that she was a native English speaker (she was born in Eastbourne) pleaded with her to go into their building and took her into the attic where they had hidden a radio!

They somehow knew that there was to be an important announcement and gave my mother pencil and paper.

Steven Frank as a child

She heard that afternoon Winston Churchill speak from the cabinet war rooms over the air waves of the BBC overseas service that at 2.41 am at General Eisenhower’s Head Quarters Germany had capitulated and at midnight the war would be over.

My mother was probably the first person in Theresienstadt to know this.

But we were still under German occupation?

In the few hours still left were they going to gas us in the newly constructed gas chambers?

Were they going to shoot us?

There was even a rumour that the camp had been dynamited.

It was an uneasy night.

The following morning the Germans had disappeared and the Russian Army entered.

They did not stay as the camp was heavily infected with just about everything that was around.

They threw bits of chocolate and biscuits out of their trucks and we grovelled for what we might find in the mud and dirt.

It was the red Cross that then took over the administration of the camp and a decontamination programme was started.

It was about a month before the first inmates were allowed to leave in an orderly evacuation.

What happened to us after that was an equally bizarre affair of events ending by being dumped on the runway at Croydon Airport.

But that’s another story.

Stephen Frank giving a talk about his life as a Holocaust survivor
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