A moving account of the Holocaust

Survivor Hannah Lewis bravely delivers her story

Hannah Lewis is one of only around 195,000 holocaust survivors still alive today and one of an even smaller number of survivors brave enough to share the atrocities experienced during their early lives. Hannah visited Year 9 at Akeley Wood House on July 27th and provided a gripping account of the hardships under Nazi rule and her struggle witnessing death and surviving the atrocious conditions found in the camps and ghettoes. Hannah survived to share her testimony on one of the darkest times in human history.

Hannah’s testimony starts on June 1st 1937 in Poland in a small market town called Włodawa. She was born into a large and wealthy family who owned the main shop in town and a saw and flour mill; her grandfather was a merchant who dealt in the large cities in the surrounding area and who was the main generator of the family’s wealth. Hannah was born to Adam and Haya Lewis as an only-child who enjoyed a comfortable childhood, that is until the outset of World War Two.  After the Nazi occupation of Poland in 1939 many Jews in large cities fled to the relative safety of the countryside, Włodawa was no exception and the small town began to fill with refugees from cities such as Warsaw. Due to her grandfather’s career as a merchant and his connections with those in the surrounding large cities, Hannah’s home began to fill with refugees. These refugees came with frightening stories of camps being built for Jews.

In 1942 the Germans began the process of rounding up Jews in Włodawa and the surrounding towns and villages, sending them to either the Sobibór extermination camp or nearby labour camps. In 1943 Hannah and her family were forcefully evicted from their homes and marched to a labour camp in a nearby village called Adampol. Fortunately for them, the family already knew the Polish commandant who managed to secure Hannah and her mother work as house servants in his house. Despite the kindness of the Polish commandant Hannah’s family began to be pruned back as people died or disappeared – most likely going to other camps – until it was only Hannah and her mother left in the camp.

One day Hannah’s father returned to the camp looking to break Hannah and her mother out due to an impending raid from a German execution squad. Hannah’s mother refused the chance of escape due to Hannah having a high temperature that could have possibly been typhoid. She knew that the journey in the snow would kill her. Instead the two stayed in the camp by the kitchen fire, holding each other tightly as Hannah fought the fever she was suffering from. The next day the execution squad arrived as feared. The Jews in the work camp were rounded up for execution and Hannah’s mother hid Hannah in the kitchen. Hannah watched as her mother was marched down to the local well and shot by the execution squad – this scene remains her most vivid memory and one that has haunted her for the rest of her life.

After Warsaw was liberated Hannah’s father found her in the camp and the two emigrated to the UK though her father later went to live in Israel. Hannah and her father didn’t have the greatest relationship after the war and he later died in 2002.

Hannah’s story is one of hardship and the struggle to survive against all odds. However, despite how inspiring such a story can be it isn’t one we as a human species should ever repeat and through survivors like Hannah who make it their life effort to spread awareness we have a greater chance of rectifying our past mistakes and look towards a brighter future.

 

By Peter Springall 9PJ