The harrowing experiences of a survivor who fled the Nazis as a child in Holland were recounted to a City Hall audience on Monday as the Greater London Assembly held its annual Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony.
In line with this year’s HMD theme of “Journeys”, Steven Frank recalled his travels from one transit camp to another, including what he described as the hardest journey of his life, spending 39 hours inside a cattle car without food, water and sufficient oxygen to breathe freely.
Mr Frank also highlighted his time in a transit camp that was beset by dysentery, polio, scarlet fever and hepatitis. On one occasion, he strayed too close to the camp’s perimeter fence and “was set upon by an Alsatian dog unleashed by two German guards patrolling the wire fence. I was bitten all over and I can still hear the guards laughing as this eight-year-old boy was being mauled. I had learnt my lesson.”
Opening proceedings, London Assembly chair Darren Johnson spoke of how the Nazis had turned their own mass transit system into an “evil public utility” in order to perpetrate mass murder.
London Mayor Boris Johnson read from survivor Primo Levi’s If Not Now, When? and sixth-formers from Highbury Grove school in north London discussed the impact of their visit to Auschwitz.
Reform Movement senior rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner spoke movingly of her own ancestral roots in Lithuania, emphasising how lucky family members had been to flee the country before local residents turned on the Jewish community.
The event closed with the story of Sophie Masereka, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide who now lives in east London with her husband and three children. She recounted how she was moments away from being killed by murderous mobs on numerous occasions but somehow survived. “An angel from God touched me on the shoulder,” she said. “God had a plan for my life.”