Tag - Holocaust

Behind Enemy Lines by Marthe Cohn – a breath-taking account of Death Camp Avoidance

Behind Enemy Lines Marthe Cohn HoffnungMarthe Hoffnung Cohn is an incredible lady. In her book Behind Enemy Lines she tells “the true story of a French Jewish Spy in Nazi Germany.” It is a story of love, persecution, triumph of hope through despair and victory over loss. Behind Enemy Lines is a beautifully written personal story of triumph of spirit over adversity in the face of the worst of humanity.

Had Marte been caught or turned in as a Jew, we are only too aware of what would have become of her. That knowledge only makes this story more gripping.

I was privileged to receive a copy of the book in my own quest to find out more about what my grandfather experienced as a British soldier fighting on German soil, but little did I expect to be transported seventy years back in time quite so clearly and vividly. Behind Enemy Lines is an extraordinary piece of work, not least because it reads like a novel. The plot seems so unbelievable that it’s hard to believe that one woman could adapt, survive and prosper in the face of such constant persecution and tyranny.

The characters are brought back to life with such love and detail that you’re drawn back in time, back to Nazi occupied France. Marthe’s story is important in helping remember the plight of Jews and other persecuted people in Nazi-controlled Europe because it provides an accurate and real narrative of what life was like before the camps. It charts the steady decline in human rights and privileges so many of us take for granted today.

The story follows her from her family home in Metz, through to Poitiers and further towards the Spanish border, then to Paris and on into Nazi Germany.  It crosses the challenges of being a Jew and a French nationalist. It tells the challenge of survival, personal growth, life and the struggle to avoid personal defeat and belief in victory over facism. There are so many images of prisoners from the concentration camps and death camps, skeletal living remains of people that had seen their lives and liberties stripped from them, but rarely today do we get to know who they were or where they came from. So many documents have been destroyed, records and memories of communities lost forever, one can hardly imagine from these images a realistic picture or understanding of the lives they once led. Marthe Hoffnung overcame so many trials and tribulations in her quest to live. She never gave up hope, blissfully unaware of the depths of depravity her sister Stephanie must have suffered once imprisoned by the Nazi regime.

Throughout her recollection of events in the early 1940s, it is clear to the reader what must have become of her, yet hope springs eternal. The story is all the more remarkable considering what we know today about how Jews such as Marthe and Stephanie were treated. One thinks of Anne Frank and her sister Margot, there but for the grace of God…

Keeping the memory alive has been the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s theme in 2015 and this grippng account of the life of a young Jewish girl, a daughter, a sister, a girlfriend and fiancée not only keeps the memory alive, it brings the reality of that tyrannical and evil time back to life. Behind Enemy Lines by Marthe Cohn is available from Amazon. Please click here to purchase a copy.


The Queen visits Bergen Belsen

Queen Elizabeth II Visits Bergen Belsen Holocaust Concentration Camp

Image: Getty Images

Queen Elizabeth II, a patron of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, visited the site of the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp in Germany to pay her respects. More than 50,000 perished at the NAZI camp including Anne Frank and her sister Margot. It is the first time Her Royal Highness has visited a concentration camp. She requested that the visit be added to her four day schedule during a tour of was accompanied by her husband Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Bergen Belsen was liberated in April 1945 by the British 11th Armoured Division. This year has seen the 70 anniversary of the liberation of the concentration and death camps, but as the number who liberated the camps falls, the importance of passing on memories and understanding of the true horror of this European genocide grows.

Rudi Oppenheimer, 83, was sent to the Bergen Belsen camp when he was just 12 years old with his brother Paul and sister Eva. All three survived, though their parents were murdered. He said: “I am lucky because I survived and I was able to put up a gravestone in my parents’ memory, but so many people didn’t survive and no-one remembers them.” He told the Daily Telegraph that he was “thrilled” by the Queen’s visit, adding: “She is the head of the Army, they liberated the camp and they looked after all the inmates. Some of the British soldiers died from typhus as a result and it is important for her to honour them.”

Queen Elizabeth II Duke of Edinburgh Bergen Belsen Concentration Camp Holocause June 2015

Image: Getty Images

With so many thousands perishing at Bergen Belsen, bodies were piled and thrown into mass graves by bulldozers. It is impossible to mark the exact location of graves and many families have erected tombstones at the site. One such memorial is that of Anne Frank and her sister Margot Frank. The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh stopped at the memorial to talk to Mr Wagner before taking a reflective walk around the site.

“It must have been horrific,” The Queen said to navy pilot Captain Eric “Winkle” Brown, 96, from West Sussex, one of the first British officers to enter its gates on 15 April 1945.

“Utterly, utterly horrific,” he recalled later, with some 10,000 bodies just “littered around” and survivors “dehumanised”, urinating and defecating where they stood or lay. “They had lost all dignity, they were dying, none of them looked as if they would live,” he added in comments to The Guardian.

Throughout the year Holocaust Memorial Trust hold events to commemorate those lost in the Holocaust and educate people about what happened in one of Europe’s darkest times. Please visit our welcome page for more information about Holocaust memorial events in Bristol.


Commemorations taking place in France this week

Each country will feel different and have a different national context this week for commemorating the liberation of Auschwitz 70 years ago tomorrow, and Holocaust Memorial Day more generally.

I imagine that in France and Belgium where I have lived, the national narrative about Jewish people and the Holocaust will be quite different, and possibly quite a bit more difficult, than here in the UK because of the very different national context for Jewish people. Here in the UK teaching the Holocaust is embedded in the national curriculum, statements of commitment to Holocaust education have come from our national leaders, and a national charity (the HMD Trust, www.hmd.org.uk) annually provides civic, school and faith organisations with resources with which to organise commemorations.

France have the Fondation Pour La Memoire de la Shoah and the national commemoration tomorrow will be addressed by President Francois Hollande at 9 am. At 6 pm, members of the Association of Auschwitz Survivors will light a memorial flame under the Arc de Triomphe.

“Nous sommes avec vous de tout coeur,” say we in Bristol to them in France.


‘Night Will Fall’

And fall it did, when British troops liberated Bergen-Belsen in Germany on 15 April 1945.

This documentary of the footage that was filmed at the time, how it was suppressed, and subsequently revisited in the 1980s makes difficult viewing.

Here in Bristol, we will be seeing it at The Watershed Cinema on Sunday April 19th, as part of our series of HMD-linked events. It will be introduced by Professor Tim Cole, historian from the University of Bristol.


Keeping the memory alive

What does it mean to ‘keep the memory alive’? Whose memories, of what, and with what medium?

Well, some clever people at the national charity Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, (www.hmd.org.uk) wrestled with these questions and what they came up with was a stroke of genius.

What they did was to pair up a Holocaust survivor with a British artist — of words, paint, clay, etc. The suvivor told his or her story and the artist created a response to that story which… will help to KEEP THE MEMORY ALIVE.

When it was announced in November 2014, this was the headline:

Stephen Fry and British artists encourage you to share the powerful stories of survivors and Keep the memory alive for Holocaust Memorial Day 2015. – See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/news/stephen-fry-launches-memory-makers-project-holocaust-memorial-day-2015#sthash.pImo6PS7.dpuf



My life in ten pictures

A fascinating 30 minute interview by Sherrie Eugene with HMD Steering Group member Eva Fielding-Jackson who describes how she discovered age 14 that she was deaf, as were both of her parents, who were Holocaust survivors from Hungary. She describes sleeping rough in her second home country, Israel, and growing up to find herself in a new world.

This appears on the Made in Bristol TV channel (Sky 117, Virgin 159 and Freeview channel 8) on the 23rd of January 2015 and over the weekend that follows.


Remembering the Holocaust by attending a documentary play

I was fascinated to read about this event taking place not in Bristol but in Newcastle-under-Lyme (Staffs.)  on the 27th of January. Yizkor is the name given to the memorial service in Judaism.

A special performance of the documentary play Yizkor will take place to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz at the New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme.

The play was developed with support from the Imperial War Museum and Val and Ibi Ginsberg, two Holocaust survivors who worked with the New Vic Theatre, supporting our work combating racism, fascism, prejudice and discrimination. Their voices are heard throughout the play, and bear witness to the realities of the Holocaust.

Val’s and Ibi’s personal pledge as Holocaust survivors to remember those who perished, and to work towards a world free from hatred and prejudice continues to be realised beyond their deaths through the Yizkor play.

Before the play there will be a presentation by Dr Caroline Sturdy-Colls from Staffordshire University, who was featured in the BBC documentary Revealing the hidden graves of the Holocaust: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-16657363

The themes of the play are as relevant today as ever they where, with the rise of extremism racism and hatred. The words of the play are made up of those written by teenagers experiencing directly the events of the Holocaust.

The play is an opportunity for us to come together and make our own individual and collective pledges, to not be bystanders in the face of hatred and prejudice, but to find our way to uphold our own humanity and that of others.

– See more at: http://hmd.org.uk/events/yizkor-70th-anniversary-liberation-auschwitz-performance#sthash.OOTrK0P6.dpuf


Counting down to HMD 2015

There are only two weeks left and we in the Bristol HMD Steering Group are putting the finishing touches on the programme for 27th of January when we will be part of the civic commemoration taking place at the M-Shed Museum.

Come and hear stories of second generation survivors, watch an education film and reflect together with symbolic music and the lighting of one of 70 candles representing 70 years since the liberation of Auschwitz.

On our home page, click on the 27th to see the full details of this event and use the calendar listing feature to see other events which will follow in the months of February, March and April.