Emmerdale star tells young Holocaust educators about the 'lucky' survival of her family

Louisa Clein's mother was hidden by non-Jews; her grandparents were taken in by members of the resistance


Emmerdale actress Louisa Clein had a real-life story to tell Holocaust Educational Trust young ambassadors at their conference  — the “lucky” survival of her ancestors.

Ms Clein — who plays Maya Stepney in ITV’s farming soap — was joined onstage at the central London venue by barrister and TV personality Robert Rinder and Noemie Lopian, who translated The Long Night, her father’s account of surviving seven Nazi camps.

Their discussion followed the screening of an excerpt from Mr Rinder’s episode of Who Do You Think You Are? in which he visited the Schlieben work camp with Sir Ben Helfgott, who was imprisoned there with Morris Malenicky, Mr Rinder’s grandfather.

Ms Clein told the 250 young people — who promote Holocaust education in their communities — that her Dutch mother, Channa Clein, was hidden by a non-Jewish family in the Netherlands as a baby until the age of five.

“She was brought up as their child for about four or five years. She never talked about it, we knew nothing about it. I don’t even remember the moment we found out.”

Ms Clein’s grandfather and grandmother, respectively an architect and an actress, were taken in by members of the resistance in Amsterdam and later reunited with her mother and aunt.

But one of her great-aunts, a dancer, was sent to the Westerbork transit camp after refusing Nazi orders to wear a yellow star and died later in another camp.

Ms Clein, who will appear in Mr Rinder’s upcoming BBC series on the Holocaust, thanked the young ambassadors for being “witnesses” to the memory of the Holocaust, and for “understanding the gift it gives you”.

The actress told the JC that growing up as “the only Jew in the village” near Sandbanks, in Dorset, she felt compelled to discover her grandparents’ story, having “always been confused about what I was.

“Because of her experiences, my mum was adamant we were brought up not to be seen as different. I spent my whole childhood knowing what I wasn’t. I just never knew what I was.

“I moved to London and I met other Jewish people and it suddenly became more part of my identity and my life.

“Whether I was on the telly or not, I suppose I feel a responsibility to keep my mum’s story told. I want my children to know it. I just think it’s a privilege.

“I’ve been an actress for 20 years and suddenly now I’ve found myself with tens of thousands of followers on Instagram and Twitter. I can either use it to get free things or to make a difference.”

Earlier in the conference, survivor Maurice Blik was interviewed by TV presenter Natasha Kaplinsky and Birkbeck history professor Nikolaus Wachsmann delivered the keynote lecture.

Every young ambassador had participated in the HET’s Lessons from Auschwitz programme, which has taken more than 39,000 students and teachers to the death camp site since 1999.

Jack Nicholls, a London regional ambassador, told the JC that since first visiting Auschwitz with the charity, he has discovered that three of his ancestors died in the Holocaust.

His maternal grandfather fled from Haarlem to the UK on a fishing trawler on the day of the Nazi invasion in May 1940.

The 22-year-old South Londoner also participated in this year’s March of the Living as a tribute to the Shoah victims in his family.

“You develop your own understanding of what took place — and the [HET] trip helps to debunk many myths and wrong preconceptions. But it also takes it out of the textbook and brings it to modern day.”

Ellie Anderson, 20, a Liverpool University undergraduate from Cardiff, is another regional ambassador.

“We’re seeing nationalism rise in Europe and if you let the history die, especially now that survivors are dying, it will only continue,” she said. “And it’s a gateway to antisemitism.

“The programme has taught me how societies can become lazy and unquestioning. There’s definitely an underlying feeling that it’s fine to attack minorities. Especially as a non-religious person, it’s taught me that human nature can be quite vile at times.”

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