Hannah Lewis was seven years old when a Nazi death squad executed her mother.
Adolf Hitler’s forces rounded up her family and forced them to march to Adampol, a labour camp in Poland in 1943.
Hannah’s father Adam fled the camp to join partisans, a Jewish resistance movement during Second World War. He returned the next night to warn of a Nazi raid and escaped with Hannah.
Hannah’s mother Haya refused permission to flee because she was afraid her daughter, who had been suffering from a high fever and suspected typhoid, would not survive.
Hannah tells Sky’s Sophy Ridge, “For as long I live, I shall always wonder how she got that night.”
“How did she make the decision she made?” It was right?
Hannah heard screaming and shouting the next morning after the Einsatzgruppen arrived, the mobile Nazi killing unit responsible for mass shootings of Jews.
Hannah explains, “Suddenly there was an eerie whack at the door, and my mother, with great dignity, got down on her knees and took me in her arms and gave me a hug, and a kiss.”
She didn’t run and she didn’t make any noise. She walked up to the door and opened it.
“I waited for her return… but she never came back.”
“Blood on snow”
Hannah, an only child went to search for her mother. She watched Haya and other children being “shoved” in front a village well.
She recalls that her mother seemed calm, but she didn’t make eye contact with her.
Hannah is fighting back tears, saying, “I decided that it would be down and I would take her hand, just like I always have.”
“As I was about going in, barefooted, someone shouted an instruction and they began to shoot.
“I saw her fall…and I saw the blood on snow.”
Hannah’s mother and grandfather, as well as her younger cousin Shlomo, were all murdered at Adampol.
Hannah, now 85, lives in north London and shares her experiences to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. This is the anniversary of liberation from Nazi death camp Auschwitz–Birkenau.
During the Holocaust, six million Jewish children, men and women were killed by the Nazis and their collaborators. Only Hannah and her father survived in her family.
“I have never forgiven myself for the loss of my cousin”
Hannah described Shlomo, her cousin who was deaf but unable to talk, as “the brother that I never had” (and “the only person I absolutely loved”)
She recalled being at the camp with the boy when, aged three years, she heard the sounds of Nazi vehicles approaching.
Hannah says, “He couldn’t hear and he couldn’t speak so I took him hand.” “I pulled it so that he understood what I was doing and ran to the nearest barn.”
Hannah claims she fell into a mound made of straw, where Shlomo and she would often hide, but then she realized he wasn’t there.
She was about to leave her hideout to find him, when her cousin appeared at the barn door.
She says, “The door opened and (the Nazis), saw him. They picked him up literally by his scruff of neck.”
“My last sighting of my sweet cousin was his back…and his legs kicking. He never came back to me again.
“When Shlomo died, I never forgave”
Going into hiding
Hannah’s family was living in Wlodawa, Poland when the Nazis invaded.
She says, “Suddenly there was curfew.” “Suddenly, my grandfather couldn’t trade. Then suddenly, you had to wear an emblem.
“I can still remember my father putting me in a sled before it got really bad and taking me to a photographer.
“I stand there trying to smile, but I have tears in my eyes because something terrible is happening. It’s not right.
“It was probably six.”
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Initialy, the family fled to hiding and stayed in a barn that required a “special knock” for entry.
Hannah relates that Hannah was among two to three other families present and they weren’t pleased when Hannah saw them.
“They didn’t want to hide from children.”
Hannah said that after one night Hannah saw the barn door open and everyone froze.
She recalls “the tip of very shining boots” and “the peaked hats worn by Nazi soldiers while they “poked about”.
Hannah said, “We sat down there like statues.”
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‘Luck ran out’
Hannah said that the family was able to escape being found, but Hannah claims their luck ran out and they were allowed an hour to pack their belongings.
Hannah, six years old, claims she walked nearly five hours to Adampol’s labour camp.
She says, “If you trip, or fall, no one will help you up.”
“I just remember them shooting someone.”
After arriving at the camp there was no electricity or running tap water. Security measures included barbed wire fencing, a watchtower and security cameras.
Hannah, a small girl at the time, tried to deal with the trauma of seeing her mother die. She initially refused to believe that she had been murdered.
She instead convinced herself that Haya had been injured and pretended to be dead in order to save her life.
Hannah was only able to see the truth after she was liberated by a Soviet soldier and reunited her father, who had witnessed his wife’s death.
She says that her father “got hold of me”, laughed, cried, and cuddled her.
“I said: ‘Where’s mama?’ “I said, ‘Where’s mama?’ He replied: ‘Mama isn’t coming back. Mama died. It was there.
“I can remember him shaking me, because for several hours, apparently I didn’t make one sound for about two hours.”
“Children”: Do you hate Germans? ‘
Hannah lived with her father in Lodz, Poland after the war. She admits that she was jealous of children with both parents.
In 1949, she moved to Britain to live with her great aunt/uncle. Her father had left Poland in 1953 for Israel.
She was married in 1961, has four children and eight grandchildren.
“Every now an again, the children say to each other: “Do you tell your story just because you hate Germans?” She says.
“I don’t say no, but I tell you my story because it is important to me.
“Beware of those who claim to have all the answers but don’t.”