Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

The Theme of Holocaust Memorial Day 2022: ‘One Day’

On 27th January 1945, Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Red Army and thousands of survivors were freed from the unimaginable suffering they had experienced. The world gradually became aware of the horrors that had taken place and the 1.1 million people that had been murdered there. In this article, we will be highlighting three stories of people who were imprisoned at Auschwitz and their lives before the Holocaust. As Ambassadors of the Holocaust Educational Trust, we know that looking beyond the numbers is crucial when remembering survivors and victims. It is important to remember that the Holocaust was not one event, but a series of interconnected events and experiences; a series of ‘One Days’, each of which played a role in shaping lives.

Arlette Lévy-Andersen receiving the Légion d'honneur award. Picture by VegaLyre – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Arlette Lévy-Andersen

Arlette Lévy-Andersen was born in 1924 and grew up in Paris. After the Nazis invaded France in 1940, her family fled to the unoccupied ‘Free Zone’ administered by Vichy France and, in September 1942, Arlette enrolled as a student at the University of Clermont Ferrand. However, on 25th November 1943, the Nazis raided the university and detained 1,000 people in the courtyard. Arlette was one of 100 people taken to the 92nd military barracks and detained for several weeks. She was then deported to Drancy, the ‘antechamber of death’ and, on 23rd January, Arlette arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Of the 1,155 people on transport 66, only 291 survived the initial selection and were forced to work in desperate conditions. Arlette said her life was saved by Jacques Stroumsa, a Greek Jew who got her a job in a nearby weapons factory where conditions were more bearable. This one act helped her survive the camp and two death marches. Arlette was reunited with her parents in Paris on 22nd May 1945.

Anka Bergman and Eva Clarke BEM

Anka Bergman (1917-2013) and Eva Clarke BEM

One day, one coincidence, can have profound impact on a life. Eva Clarke was born in Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria on 29th April 1945. Her parents married in Prague in 1940 and, in December 1941, they were sent to the ghetto in Terezin, Czechoslovakia. Despite being separated, Anka, Eva’s mother, fell pregnant. Anka gave birth to a son, Dan, but he passed away of pneumonia aged just two months. However, his death saved Anka and Eva’s lives. Anka arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau in October 1944. Had she arrived with a baby, she would have been murdered upon arrival. Anka was already pregnant with Eva but it went undetected and she was deemed fit to work in a factory near Dresden. In the spring of 1945, the Germans were retreating and prisoners were forced onto coal trucks for a nightmarish three-week journey. The train eventually arrived at Mauthausen and Anka was so shocked when she saw the name of the camp, a notorious killing site, that she went into labour. Eva was born in a cart on 29th April, one day after the camp ran out of gas for the gas chambers, and days before the camp was liberated by the Americans. One day made all the difference.

Primo Levi

Primo Levi in his later years. Picture by Monozigote – Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

Primo Levi was born in July 1919 to Italian Jewish parents. He was raised in a small Jewish community in Turin and he began studying at the University of Turin in 1937. However, just a year later, laws were implemented preventing the education of Jews in state schools, from which Primo was exempt due to enrolling before its introduction. He graduated in 1941 and found work using a false identity in a pharmaceutical company in Milan. He returned home in 1942 to find that his mother and sister were in hiding to avoid persecution by the Nazis. In 1943 he fled to northern Italy with his family and joined a resistance group; to avoid being shot as an Italian partisan after being arrested in December 1943, he admitted his Jewish identity and was sent to an Italian prison camp. In February 1944, he was deported to Auschwitz and was given prisoner number 174517. He did what he could to try and survive, trading food for German lessons and managing to secure work in a rubber factory. This was where he also began his now-famous memoirs ‘If This is a Man’. He survived Auschwitz and after liberation began to complete his memoir, which was released in 1958.

Primo’s other significant writings include a second memoir, ‘The Truce’, which was released in 1963, and ‘The Periodic Table’ in 1975. He also raised a family with his wife Lucia and had two children, Renzo and Lisa, before passing away in April 1987. Primo Levi lived an incredible life, surviving Auschwitz and sharing with the world the horrors of the Holocaust, all while making important contributions to the world of science.

By Holly Edgar and Jack Thurlow