A remarkable story of survival has brought the horrors of the Holocaust to life for students at a Blyth academy.
History students at Bede Academy heard the first hand account from Joanna Millan, a grandmother who spent two years of her young life in a concentration camp, having already lost her parents.
Joanna was one of six orphans sent to Theresianstadt, near Prague, and among the fewer than 100 children out of 15,000 deported there who survived.
She was just three when she came to England in August 1945 having survived on watery soup and any food smuggled out of the camp kitchens by female prisoners put to work there.
Joanna, 73, who was born in Berlin, explained: “I came to England with nothing, no parents, no family members, no photographs, no clothes, possessions or toys of my own. Even the dress I was photographed in was given to me by the Red Cross. I didn’t know what was going to happen to me.”
Initially she spent time at a centre on Lake Windermere with the other freed orphans and was later adopted by a couple in London, where she still lives. Even after settling in England, she was stripped of her Jewish identity and forced to deny her background.
Joanna now spends her time telling her story to students. “By talking about it and writing about it, it’s a living memorial. It’s more powerful than any stone statue. For me, it’s an act of memorial to my parents and grandmother,” she told Year 9 at Bede.
“We can learn from history over hundreds of years that a group of people can become marginalised, the outsiders, the other, who are eventually considered not fit to live. We have to stop it now, we have to do better than previous generations.”
Asked by a student why she thought she had survived the camp, she said: “One of the reasons I survived was because I was on my own and had no-one to take me to the gas chambers. We kept quiet and they probably thought we would die anyway.”
History teacher Florence Gittins said: “The students have created Holocaust displays of pictures and pieces of writing in the classroom but there is no substitute for a first hand account. Even though World War II was a long time ago, the students are very interested in it and said they wanted to hear from a survivor.
“We have also considered genocide from the more recent perspective of Rwanda from 1992-1994, which sadly shows it’s still happening in modern times.”