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Holocaust survivor praises courageous parents in Second World War

Holocaust survivor Steven Frank Photo: Holocaust Memorial Day Trust

A Holocaust survivor has paid tribute to the “courageous” actions of his parents during the Second World War to mark Holocaust Memorial Day.

Steven Frank was just five years old when the Nazis invaded his home town of Amsterdam in 1940.

His father, Leonard, who helped hide Jews and arrange papers for them as part of the Dutch Resistance, was betrayed and arrested in late 1942.

The lawyer was also the legal member of a board that governed one of the most advanced Jewish mental hospitals in the world.

Despite three friends petitioning the authorities for clemency because of his contributions to Dutch society, he was taken to Auschwitz concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, where he was gassed age 39.

Mr Frank, 83, from Hertfordshire, said: “One day my father went off to work, he kissed us all goodbye and I never saw him again.

“The next thing that happened was my mother was informed that he had been arrested, and (she) took complete control.

“We fled from our home, we went into hiding – all in different places.

“For me, to be hiding wasn’t particularly onerous, it didn’t mean a great deal to me (as a young child).

“Nothing happened to our home so my mother returned.”

Steven Frank’s father died at Auschwitz Credit: Dave Thompson/PA

Mr Frank was speaking ahead of a commemorative event organised by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust on Sunday.

He said Holocaust Memorial Day was always especially poignant because it falls so close to the anniversary of his father’s death on January 21 1943.

Speaking of his pride in his father’s bravery, he said: “He hadn’t in his heart to turn his back on these mentally handicapped people and go to the safety of England with his wife and three children.

“He felt he had to stay behind and speak for them, that’s why we never escaped and went to England.”

Mr Frank also praised the courage of his mother, Beatrix, who came to the Netherlands from England before the war.

She was “determined” that the family make it through the war to be reunited with his father.

After his father was arrested, his mother disguised herself as a male cleaner to visit him in prison, Mr Frank said, and she cut men’s hair to earn money.

Beatrix and her children were placed on a list in the hope that they could stay in the Netherlands and were taken to Barneveld in March 1943.

But in September 1944 the family were sent to Theresienstadt camp in occupied Czechoslovakia – an arduous journey with “nothing but the stench of human sweat and urine”.

When they arrived, his mother asked to work in the camp’s laundry, aware it was one of the only places with hot water.

Mrs Frank would wash her sons’ and others’ clothes in secret to prevent them from succumbing to a Typhus epidemic.

Mr Frank recalled: “She was absolutely determined she would present her three sons to her husband after the war – she was convinced he would survive.

“The great tragedy was that by the time we had left our house he was already dead.

“She was convinced he would be alive because of the man that he was.

“I think that kept her going, thinking that he would be there and she would be able to present her three children to him at the end of the war.”

The camp was liberated by the Red Army in 1945, and Mrs Frank and her three sons moved to England to rebuild their lives.