A FRANK AND MOVING HOLOCAUST ACCOUNT
On Wednesday 14th March, 190 Year 9 and 10 students had the privilege of meeting Steven Frank. Steven was born in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and was five years old when the Nazis invaded his country in 1940. Life for Steven was about to change dramatically as the Nazis identified him as a Jew. He went from a very happy childhood to constant persecution. Steven and his family found themselves denied their civil liberties and segregated from former friends and neighbours. It was a confusing time for young Steven who could not fathom why he could no longer play in the park or swim in the local swimming pool anymore.
Our students listened intently as Steven recounted the story of his father (a former lawyer) who joined the Dutch resistance movement only to be discovered by the Gestapo (Nazi secret police) and sent to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.
Shortly after his father’s arrest Steven, his mother and his brothers received notice that they were to be sent away. First they were sent to a prison camp for privileged prisoners because of his father’s connections but eventually the four of them were sent to Westerbork, the largest transit camp in the Netherlands. Westerbork became a holding camp for Dutch Jews before they were sent for resettlement in the East, usually at Auschwitz–Birkenau the most notorious extermination camp.
Fortunately Auschwitz-Birkenau was not the destination for Steven’s family. Instead they faced a grueling 39 hour train ride without food or water on their way to Theresienstadt, in what was then Czechoslovakia. When they finally arrived at Theresienstadt it was very overcrowded and disease flourished, killing thousands of people. Steven’s survival owed much to his mother. She got herself a job in the camp’s hospital laundry, one of the few places with regular (hot) water. She secretly washed people’s clothes in exchange for scraps of bread which she mixed with hot water and took to her sons in a tin saucepan as a ‘bread porridge’ – giving them some additional strength with their own rations.
Fortunately for Steven, the war ended before they were deported to one of the main extermination camps. He and his brothers are three of only 93 children who survived Theresienstadt out of the 15,000 children who were sent there.
Despite Steven’s horrific experiences and at the age of 82, he managed to captivate his audience for 90 minutes, standing throughout! Our students took away with them a precious first-hand account that helped deepen their understanding of a topic study in Years 9 & 10. It was a truly amazing experience that no one will ever forget.
The Star of David, Steven was forced to wear by the Nazis. (More photos to follow).