My first childhood memory is of a train journey. It was in the winter of 1943-1944, and I was four years old.  My parents and I were being sent from Westerbork in Holland to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. As German Jews from Frankfurt-am-Main, my parents had left Nazi Germany in 1939 for the comparative safety of Holland. In 1939, whilst in London to visit her sister, my pregnant mother went into labour, and I was born 3 weeks before the outbreak of war. On 3 September, my mother took the last aeroplane from London to Amsterdam so that we could be reunited with my father. 

After we had been imprisoned in the Westerbork transit camp, we were transferred to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp around the end of 1943 or beginning of 1944. The camp guards and their dogs were unspeakably cruel and sadistic – and obviously took great pleasure in beating and tormenting us. We children soon learnt to keep out of their way, if at all possible. My memory of Bergen-Belsen is of cold, hunger, malnutrition and terror. I ended up very emaciated but with a swollen belly. There were lice everywhere, and everybody had their heads shaved in order to try to stop the spread of lice. But they did spread, and typhus became rampant – para-typhus and typhoid.

My mother, who developed cancer, became unable to take care of me and was transferred to the so-called ‘hospital barrack’, where she was looked after by Jewish prisoners. I spent as much time as was allowed sitting by her side and unable to grasp what was happening; I was with her when she died. Before the war, he had been an elegant, full-bodied man but gradually he became pitifully emaciated. The work he was forced to do consisted of cleaning out the ‘hospital’ toilets. It was there that he met Yehoshua Birnbaum. Before he died my father asked him to watch over his only child. 

In March/April 1945, surviving prisoners were packed onto trains to be sent to extermination camps in the east. The train stopped finally in Tröbitz, in eastern Germany, and we were liberated by the advancing Russian army. I was desperately ill with typhoid, and the Russians took me and other sick survivors to the hospital in Tröbitz. Then, I wound up in an orphanage in Holland. I was six years old and at last felt freedom from fear. For the first time in my life, I saw beauty in nature, where previously all had been barren, brown, abused and ugly: it was a true awakening.

Mr Birnbaum tracked down my aunt in London, who arranged for me to be adopted by the Davidsons, a German-Jewish family who had come to Britain in 1933. They gave me a beautiful home and saw to it that I had a first-class education. In 1961, I married my Herbert, and we had two wonderful children and 53 glorious years together.

I have once visited the villa at which the Wannsee Conference was held and have vowed never to go there again. The evil which was devised in that lovely house hangs in the air and, despite the beauty all around, I felt enormous fear. The evil is almost tangible, and it is incomprehensible how the glorious setting of the Wannsee could have become the backdrop to the preparation of such heinous crimes. The men who devised these horrors are long gone. So are most of their victims – but not all. A few survived – and with WE! ARE! HERE! I can bear witness with Rosie, one of my wonderful grandchildren, to what was done to me and to millions of others.

Lilian Levy (née Dreifuss, adopted Davidson)

Born in 1939 in London, United Kingdom