Survivor's story: 'I didn't know my real family'

The family of Joan Salter, 72, fled Brussels in 1942. Assisted by the French Resistance, who hid them in a laundry van, they travelled from Paris to Lyon before attempting to reach Spain. However, she and relatives were captured and imprisoned near the Pyrenees. At the age of three, she and older sister Lilane were rescued by the United States Committee for the Care of European Children and went to America in 1943 — their parents had to stay behind. Her American-Jewish foster family changed her name from Fanny to ease her assimilation. She reunited with family members in 1947, married in England in 1959 and now chairs a group for child survivors

“When I arrived in America, they changed my name because the attitude was to become a good American or British citizen,” Mrs Salter recalls. “We didn’t really talk about the Holocaust over there and I grew up in a different way of life. I was seven when I finally learned that my family had survived the Holocaust and were living in London.”

The reunion was a “horrendous experience. I didn’t know my real family and when I did meet them, my family was broken. My mother was one of eight children, but she was the only one to survive the Holocaust. They had lost everything, but I was too young to understand what they had gone through.

“I went back and forwards between America and England for the next 10 years, which didn’t do my education any good. My relationship with my American family eventually broke down.”

Talking about the Child Survivors’ Association, she points out that “a lot of us were not in the camps but our parents were imprisoned. We don’t have a context to put the Holocaust in so we meet and talk a lot about our experiences.”

    Last updated: 3:04pm, February 4 2013