'How I survived Bergen-Belsen'


After Zahava Kohn's mother, Rosy Kanarek, died 10 years ago, she discovered an extraordinary collection of documents, letters, ration books and photographs telling the story of the family's experiences during the Holocaust.

Ms Kohn was born in what was then Palestine in 1935, but health issues led the Kanareks to return to Europe two years later. They had settled in Amsterdam in 1943 when the Nazis came to take them away.

She was suffering from chicken pox and became hysterical as the guards tried to separate her from her parents. They eventually gave up and she remained with them, which probably saved her life. The Kanareks were sent to Westerbork transit camp, where they survived for nine months, far longer than most. They were then due to be sent to Auschwitz. But because Zahava's birthplace was under British protection, they were taken to Bergen-Belsen instead.

They endured a year in brutal conditions before liberation: "It was terrible there. Every day, we had roll calls and we had to stand there for many hours on end - in the summer in the heat, in winter in inches of snow - and I had outgrown my shoes and clothes. The woman on the next bunk was very ill with dysentery and typhoid and had to relieve herself in a bucket. One night, she knocked it on top of me. My mother was in a terrible state. There was no water in the barracks and she couldn't get out at night to clean me."

The Kanareks were released on the first transport to Biberach in January 1945 and remained there until the allied victory.

It was not until after the war that Ms Kohn's younger brother Jehudi was reunited with the family. He had been sent into hiding and cared for by members of the Dutch resistance. At one point, a photograph of him was smuggled into Westerbork in a sack of beans by his carers. It was kept by her mother, along with a Rosh Hashanah card she made in the camp, for more than 50 years.

Zahava settled in Switzerland and then moved to Britain, where she married another survivor, Lord Ralph Kohn, and worked as a teacher.

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