Director's family Shoah production

February 17, 2011
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Hephzibah Rudofsky and Lady Zahava Kohn at this week’s session for pupils at the Jewish Museum

Hephzibah Rudofsky and Lady Zahava Kohn at this week’s session for pupils at the Jewish Museum

A schools theatre director has embarked upon a more personal production - her own mother's story of survival in Bergen-Belsen.

Until last year, Lady Zahava Kohn had never spoken in public about her experiences in Nazi-occupied Holland and in the concentration camp.

Her daughter Hephzibah Rudofsky is the former schools tour director of And Then They Came For Me, a play about Anne Frank. Ms Rudofsky was inspired to continue teaching pupils about the Holocaust through her mother's story after leaving the production, which is embarking on a world tour.

Lady Kohn was born in Palestine, but her family moved to Amsterdam when she was two. They lived under Nazi occupation, eventually being deported to Westerbork and then Bergen-Belsen.

"My parents never talked about it and I was only very young - I was eight-years-old in Bergen-Belsen. I was grateful to them for not talking about it. They wanted me to have a happy life and not be held back by the experience. But after Hephzi asked me, I thought it was about time I told my story to people. It's very important."

After the death of her mother, Lady Kohn and Ms Rudofsky went through her belongings, discovering diligently preserved documents from Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen, including ration books, authorised sick notes from Nazi doctors, documents given to them on the train to Bergen-Belsen and a Rosh Hashanah card Lady Kohn made as a seven-year-old in Westerbork.

"My late grandmother had clearly gone to incredible lengths - and taken considerable risks - to ensure their story should not be forgotten," Ms Rudofsky said.

Lady Kohn's father also survived the camps and her baby brother Jehudi was taken into hiding by the Dutch resistance before the family were sent to Westerbork. They were all reunited after the war.

The documents formed the basis of a book, Fragments Of A Lost Childhood, which was published last year.

Lady Kohn - whose pharmacologist husband Ralph was knighted in 2010 for services to science, music and charity - now visits schools to tell her story.

She also talks to groups at the Jewish Museum on a question-and-answer basis.

This week, year nine and 10 pupils from Barnshill Community High School in Hayes were her audience at the museum.

"This has really captured their imagination," said history teacher Laura Sutton. "Many of the pupils thought the Holocaust was just something from a film until we started learning about it."

Sophie Tovey, 14, found the session "interesting and also quite emotional, especially when she was talking about how young she was".

Chloe Keen, 14, said: "I didn't know that there were such things as different kinds of concentration camp."

Last updated: 2:23pm, March 23 2011