On 4 December 2014 the Human Rights Collegium in the School of Law, Queen Mary University of London, in co-operation with the Leo Baeck Institute and the Holocaust Educational Trust, welcomed students, staff and the public to hear first-hand from a Holocaust survivor.
The aim of the event was to ensure that these tragedies are remembered and never forgotten. This was a rare opportunity to hear directly from somebody that experienced the unimaginable.
Professor Wayne Morrison gave an introductory speech about the importance and difficulty of witnessing the Holocaust which was then followed by the story of Hannah Lewis.
Hannah Lewis was born on the 1st June 1937 in Włodawa, Poland. Włodawa was and is a small market town on the river Bug on the border with Ukraine. She was an only child and the much loved daughter of Adam and Haya. She came from a large prosperous family and her grandparents owned the main shop in the town as well as the saw and flour mill and various properties. They were respected in the town and both her father and her grandfather had a lot of contact with the Polish people living there and the surrounding areas as they traded with them. Hannah had a happy and uneventful childhood until war broke out and the Nazis occupied Poland. Increasingly, Włodawa began to fill up with Jews trying to find a safer place outside large cities and became full of refugees. Some of them moved in to her parents' house.
In 1942 the Germans began rounding up the Jews of Włodawa to either nearby Sobibór extermination camp or various labour camps.
In 1943 Hannah and her family were rounded up and forcibly marched to a labour camp in a village called Adampol which was a few miles from Włodawa. Over time most of her family disappeared. Her father and his cousin managed to escape and joined the partisans. Only Hannah and her mother remained in Adampol.
One of the things that the partisans did in the area was to warn Jews in work camps and other places of imminent raids by German killing squads if they had discovered the information. In the last winter of the war Hannah fell ill with a high temperature and suspected typhoid so her mother would not leave when her father came to warn them of the impending action the next day. The next morning the German police arrived and her mother with other people were taken and lined up round by the village well where she was shot. Hannah remained in the camp and survived as best she could. Hannah was finally liberated in 1945 by a Russian soldier who picked her out of a trench dirty and very hungry.
After the war her father found her and they lived in Łódź. Eventually in 1949 Hannah was brought on her own to England to live with her great aunt and uncle in London. In 1953 her father left Poland to go to Israel. Hannah now lives in London having married in 1961 and had four children and eight grandchildren. She has been sharing her experiences in schools and universities for several years so that young people today can seek to understand the impact the Holocaust has on the contemporary world.