As the world today marks Holocaust Memorial Day, 76 years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Steven Frank, 85, relived the horrors of his experience. He said: “I witnessed these children screaming and pleading to be kept together. Their brother or sister was all they had left. “But the German guards broke their last link in the chain. I found that utterly brutal. It still riles me today.”
Karen Pollock, Holocaust Educational Trust chief executive, said the need to remember was as great as ever despite the commemorations being online this year.
She said: “As the Holocaust moves from living history to just history, we will work harder to ensure the six million Jewish men, women and children murdered by Nazis are never forgotten.”
Steven and Tomi Komoly, 84, work with the trust to tell schoolchildren about their experiences. They sought sanctuary in Britain after the war and were awarded British Empire Medals for services to Holocaust education.
Steven, of Chorleywood, Herts, was born in Amsterdam to an English mother, Beatrix, and a lawyer father, Leonard, who helped Jews escape.
He said: “He was betrayed, we believe by a Jew, who may have been tortured.
My father was arrested in his office and taken to the Gestapo HQ in Amsterdam, where we think he was tortured, and then to the notorious camp at Amersfoort, where we know he was tortured. He was gassed in Auschwitz on January 21, 1943.”
Steven, who has six children and step-children and 14 grandchildren, added: “My mother changed places with one of the cleaners at Amersfoort and disguised herself as a man. He told her he’d been tortured but gave nothing away.” In September 1944 Steven, his mother and two brothers were taken in a cattle truck to Theresienstadt camp near Prague.
Steven, who was nine, said: “We were pushed in until you could not get any more in. People began to scream and cry in the darkness. I’ll never forget the 39 hours with no sleep, no food, no water. A stench built up from sweat, vomit, faeces and urine while oxygen levels were dropping.”
He saw Nazi guards breaking up families in the camp. “If there were two siblings, they’d pick one and leave the other,” he said. Steven’s mother and his two brothers survived to build a new life with him in the UK.
Tomi, of Wilmslow, Cheshire, grew up in Hungary, occupied by Germany in 1944. His father Alfred was presumed dead after being arrested while on leave from a forced labour unit. Tomi, then eight, and his mother Margrit were sent to a ghetto for Jews.
But Margrit’s father told them about two women who risked their lives to hide them. He said: “We took off the yellow stars we had to wear on our coats and caught a tram. We were in the family’s cellar until the Russians came on January 15, 1945.”
In 1956 Tomi, who has two children and seven grandchildren, fled Hungary.
He said: “For 35 years I could not face anything German. But in the late 1970s I met a 30-year-old German woman who told me: ‘Can you imagine going to school, learning about what happened during the war and having to go home and ask your parents what they did in the war?’ We became friends.”