Swinton students learn from holocaust survivor

NSYT-Holocaust survivor visits school, Khalisah Smith age 15, Charlotte Stone age 15, Joanna Millan, Sarah O'Hamlon, Brad Wilson age 15
NSYT-Holocaust survivor visits school, Khalisah Smith age 15, Charlotte Stone age 15, Joanna Millan, Sarah O'Hamlon, Brad Wilson age 15

Lessons from history were brought vividly to life for students who welcomed a special visitor to their school.

Holocaust survivor Joanna Millan talked to sixth formers and year 11 history students at Swinton Community School, about how she and her family suffered during the war years.

Her harrowing account of events that took place from 1943 to 1945 was given as part of a visit organised by the Holocaust Educational Trust.

Students heard how in June 1943, 10-months old Joanna (who was born Bela Rosenthal), and her mother were taken from their home in Berlin and sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto.

In 1944 Bela’s mother contracted TB and Bela was orphaned at the age of two. Her father had been sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in March, 1943, and killed on his arrival.

Students were told how Bela, as a little child, would be given vegetables hidden by women who worked in the kitchens. Bela was one of 50,000 Jews who survived cramped and filthy conditions. One in four died as the result of a meagre diet of rationed watery soup, potatoes and bread. The true horror of the camp was revealed by the fact that 190 bodies were cremated daily in four ovens, each originally designed for just one body but taking four skeletal bodies at a time.

It was on May 3, 1945, that the Red Cross took control of the camp and Bela was liberated by the Russians. In August, she and 299 other surviving orphans arrived in England. After living in two children’s homes she was adopted by a Jewish couple from London and was told to forget her past. Her name was changed at that point.

Joanna went on to marry and have three children. In her early forties, she was contacted by Sarah Moskovitz, an American academic who had read a study of Joanna and other camp survivors by Anna Freud.

Sarah pushed Joanna in to researching her past - a path Joanna said was both “extraordinary and difficult”. She has since found many living relations.

Over the past 25 years, Joanna has told her family’s story in schools and universities across the UK and recently in China.

John Morrison at Swinton Community School said: “It has been a privilege for us to welcome Joanna Millan to our school and her testimony will remain a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced.

“We are grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for co-ordinating the visit, together with our HET Ambassador.

“We hope that by hearing Joanna’s testimony, it will encourage our students to learn from the lessons of the Holocaust and make a positive difference in their own lives.”