Students in Grades 8, 9 and 10 were given the opportunity to listen to a talk by Lady Zahava Kohn and her daughter Hephzibah Rudofsky. Zahava’s parents were German Jews, but she was born in Palestine – subject of the British Mandate which was later to prove crucial in saving her life.
Zahava’s parents moved back from Palestine to Europe in 1937 due to health problems suffered by her mother as a result of the hot climate and they settled in Holland. Unfortunately as the 1930s progressed it eventually became impossible to escape. Her parents considered going into hiding but they had a baby, Zahava’s younger brother, who would give the game away if he cried so he was smuggled out by the Dutch resistance. Eventually Zahava and her parents were taken to Bergen-Belsen, a concentration camp. Luckily, Zahava’s nationality meant that their transfer to Bergen-Belsen was delayed meaning they spent a few months less time suffering starvation and diseased conditions in the camp. However, Zahava still got very sick. By the time she and her parents were released in January 1945 she could hardly walk as she was so sick and emaciated. Again, the family was released before the camp was officially liberated in April and she says she would not have survived until April.
Zahava and her parents were luckily reunited with her younger brother who had lived in Sweden during the war. Incredibly, they all survived. Her parents didn’t talk much of their experiences because they wanted their children to make the most of their lives and look forward. She says that those who dwelled on what they had suffered tended to suffer much more anger and depression. However, after her mother died, she found a suitcase at the back of her wardrobe with many photos and artefacts from the camp, such as the metal bowls they ate their turnip flavoured water from and the medical kit they were given after liberation, which was completely inadequate for the needs of the survivors who needed long-term intensive therapy rather than bandages! She made the decision then that she would like to use these possessions to tell her own story. She and her daughter, Hephzi travel around the country telling their personal story and have also written a book, “Fragments of a Childhood”. They strongly feel that these personal accounts should be told.
Halcyon students were completely engaged, asking a wide range of thoughtful questions and many bought the book. It was interesting to see how survivors’ accounts are so variable and often physical survival is by chance. But to remain mentally strong and positive following such an ordeal really shows a different kind of survival. We also learned about the kindness of the Dutch resistance who risked their lives to smuggle the baby brother out and keep him safe which made the healing for the family afterwards much easier and gave them faith in humanity.