How Zahava Kohn survived the Nazis

February 17, 2011

"I was born in British-controlled Palestine in 1935 and moved to Amsterdam two years later. We were comfortably off but things were difficult for the Jews. My parents were very worried when my brother was born. They wanted to escape Amsterdam but were afraid the baby would cry. They tried desperately to get us out of the country and eventually got visas for Honduras but the papers arrived too late.

"When they knew we would be deported in 1943, they decided to leave my brother Jehudi, who was 16-months-old, with a lady in the Dutch resistance. She wrote to my parents in Westerbork, using code words to tell them my brother was fine and sent a photograph hidden in a bag of dried beans.

"When they came to take us to Westerbork I had chicken pox and the guards wanted to send me on the train for sick people, separating me from my mother. But I was hysterical and eventually they gave up trying. That probably saved my life and my parents. When we left Westerbork, the only reason we did not go straight to Auschwitz was because I had British protection from being born in Palestine. If we had been separated, they would have been killed. After four months in Westerbork, we were on the platform waiting for the train to Auschwitz and we were called back at the last second and told to stay. We stayed there five more months and then were sent to Bergen-Belsen.

"My grandparents lived in Switzerland and they tried everything to get us out of Bergen-Belsen, but they couldn't. My parents were instructed to send postcards to them asking for food parcels. Of course, the parcels never arrived - they were intercepted by the SS. But my grandparents kept the postcards and we found them after my mother's death.

"It was a brutal place, with many beatings. My father had his teeth all knocked out. There were no toilets and I shared a bunk with my mother. She was very ill with typhoid and she had a bucket next to the bed because she couldn't make it outside to go to the toilet. One day she knocked the bucket all over me. She was terrified because it was so infectious and we had nothing to wash with.

"We were liberated in April 1945 and we managed to get to Switzerland to stay with my grandparents. I spent a long time having treatments for my bad health. We were reunited with my brother after the war and he didn't know us. He called my mother 'mummy from Switzerland'."

Lady Zahava Kohn

Last updated: 2:56pm, February 17 2011