A unique exhibition depicting the memories of Holocaust survivors living in the UK has been launched. Justine Halifax spoke to one of the survivors now living in the West Midlands.
Magda Bloom was just 13 when she was forced to leave her Hungarian home at gunpoint with her mother and little brother, Gyorgy.
It was 1944, and her father, an honoured Hungarian soldier, had just been killed like many thousands of other men, clearing land mines to make it safe for German soldiers to cross.
Terrified for their lives, after spending a month in a Satoraljaujhely ghetto, they were transported to the most infamous Nazi concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenhau.
The incomprehensible horrors they faced began almost immediately when within seconds of arriving 12-year-old Gyorgy was ripped from his mother’s grasp by a German guard.
Frightened, he turned back crying “Momma, Momma, you come?”, but as she tried to run after “the apple of her eye” their mother was knocked to the ground by a German soldier for breaking away from the line.
By the time she got up Gyorgy had gone, lost in a crowd of thousands of people and was never seen again. The innocent child was taken straight to the gas chamber.
Grandmother-of-two Magda said: “When the guard took my darling little brother, the apple of my mother’s eye, it broke her heart.
“We later discovered he had gone straight to the gas chamber and the thought that my little brother had had to go alone, without any of his family, broke mine and my mother’s hearts forever.”
Magda lost her entire family in Nazi concentration camps. She stayed with her mother throughout her ordeal but her mother died the night before they were liberated by the British.
Now aged 81, Magda said: “I always said, even today, that I believe my mother struggled along just to see me through in any case, her heart already broken.”
The pensioner, who was adopted by the Hesselberg family of Birmingham, where she still lives, has helped to launch a striking exhibition which brings the incomprehensible horrors and experience of the Holocaust to a new generation and celebrates the lives that Holocaust survivors went on to build in England.
Portraits for Posterity is a collection of memories and images of Holocaust survivors still living in the UK
Magda is just one of the faces that makes up the exhibition, which is based over three Staffordshire sites – the Wedge Gallery at the Lichfield Campus of South Staffordshire College, Lichfield Cathedral and the National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas.
While her story is an individual one, it speaks for the millions of Jews who perished as part of Hitler’s horrific industrial genocide.
Magda, who still bears a number tattooed on her left arm when she arrived at a Nazi concentration camp, believes it is vital that Holocaust survivors’ tales are told in the hope nothing like it can happen again.
She said: “The memories of the Holocaust live at the forefront of my mind every day. I lost my entire family to the Nazi concentration camps. We must make sure that the enormity of this unparalleled tragedy does not happen again.”
Jackie Reason, one of the organisers of the exhibition, said: “Very few survived the ghettos, extermination and labour camps of the Nazi regime. Those alive today are now elderly, but still bear witness to the crime of the 20th century.
“By creating images of the few, the exhibit provides a permanent memorial that also commemorates the millions who perished without portraits.”
* Portraits for Posterity runs at Lichfield Cathedral until November 12, and in the Wedge Gallery of South Staffordshire College’s Lichfield campus and the National Memorial Arboretum until November 15. www.portraitsforposterity.com.
Magda Bloom's story
"A short time after my father’s death, together with my mother and my little brother Gyorgy, we were forced to leave our home with rifles pointed at us. I can’t put into words the fear, terror and sadness we felt at leaving our home for the very last time.
We were taken to a ghetto in Hungary barricaded in with high wooden fences and observatory towers, there was no escape.