Survivor

Hannah Lewis, guest speaker at Hounslow’s Holocaust Memorial Day “Don’t Stand By” event, told her story. Her family ran a shop in a small town in W Poland. At a visit in 1937 to Warsaw, her father saw how bad things were getting. He urged the family (Jews) to emigrate. His parents overruled  a terrible decision. We saw a photo of Hannah, bravely holding back the tears, on the day the family was rounded up. Taken to a labour camp nearby, her grandfather got there in a wheelbarrow and any stragglers were shot. Her disabled uncle, was soon put to death. She and her mother lived in a shack with straw for a bed – freezing in winter, boiling in summer. Each day her mother made countless exhausting trips to the well for water. They lived in fear of execution by an armed group. Then one day there was a wrap on the door. Her mother got up, went over to Hannah, who was ill at the time. She gave her a big hug and kissed her, turned round and went out of the door, not looking back. Hannah waited, opened the door ajar and looked out. She could see her mother in the front line. She heard the order given. She watched as they fell, their blood marking the snow. She then returned into the hut. She was 7 years old. She was looked after until her father, looking very thin came to the house one day. He then did his best to rebuild their lives, but Poland was devastated, most of the family had died. They were told they were free to go, but no one who wanted them. Her father wrote to cousins in Edgware and in 1948, 2 smartly dressed men stood at their door, “we’ve come to collect the little cousin”. She landed in England in January 1949. She went to school, initially flatly refusing to learn English. She made friends and through them her healing began, though never sure which of her terrible memories were real, which was another of her many nightmares. 40 years later, married with her own family, she made the journey to Poland to face the parallel life she had, which she alone knew. She visited her home town, she even met people who remembered her, she saw the camp, the steps her mother had descended, and she was shown where the well had been. She know what had been real.