Joanna was born Bela Rosenthal in August 1942 in Berlin.
At the end of February 1943, Bela’s father was taken from the streets of Berlin and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was killed. Later that year in June, Bela and her mother were taken from their home and sent to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp 50 miles outside of Prague. In 1944, when Bela was 2, her mother contracted TB due to the conditions in the camp, leaving Bela orphaned and alone in the camp.
Some of the women working in the kitchens would take food to the orphans. One woman, Litska Shallinger, knowing that the food in the camp was contaminated and working in the vegetable patch, would bring back fresh, clean vegetables hidden under her clothes, some of which she would give to Bela. After the war Litska wanted to take Bela home with her, but the authorities did not think that she had the means to care for a child. On 3rd May 1945, the Red Cross took over control of the camp and Bela was liberated by the Russians.
After the liberation Bela, along with five other surviving orphans, was flown to England in British bomber planes which had been used to return Czech pilots who had been flying with the RAF during the war. After transferring through a series of children’s homes, Bela was adopted by a Jewish couple living in London. They decided it would be better to have a less German sounding name and so her name was changed to Joanna. Joanna was told not to mention that she was Jewish or that she was born in Germany and to pretend that she was their natural daughter. Growing up and hiding her identity was hard for Joanna, but she says that the scale of antisemitism was such that Jews were discriminated against in all spheres of society, even in England. Just before they died, her adopted parents told Joanna that they had considered committing suicide during the war because they were so afraid of what might happen to the Jewish people in England if the Nazis had won the war.
Joanna went on to marry a Jewish man and has 3 children and 8 grandchildren. She is a magistrate and today speaks regularly about her experiences during the Holocaust.
Joanna’ testimony can also be found in the following books and films: