We are very much looking forward to welcoming Joanna Millan to Broadoak College to come and talk to us on Wednesday 30th September.
Joanna was born Bela Rosenthal in August 1942 in Berlin.
At the beginning of March 1943 Bela’s father was taken from the streets of Berlin and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was killed on arrival. 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 18 months old, her mother died of TB leaving Bela orphaned.
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.
Bela was one of 140,936 Jews deported to Theresienstadt, which saw up to 50,000 Jews present at one time, seven times the amount the camp was designed for. They lived in filthy and cramped conditions. Surviving on a meagre diet of watery soup, potatoes and bread, one in four died. Perhaps the darkest picture was how 190 bodies were cremated daily in four ovens, which were originally designed for one body, but could fit four due to how thin they had become.
On 3rd May 1945, the Red Cross took over control of the camp and Bela was liberated by the Russians.
On 15th August along with 299 other surviving orphans, Bela was flown to England. When they arrived there were in fact 301 children including a little boy who had stowed away.
After living in two children’s home with other Child Survivors, Bela was adopted by a childless Jewish couple from London. Her name was changed to Joanna, and she was told to forget her past and forbidden to contact the other child survivors. Her adopted parents pretended that she was their natural daughter and told her to keep her identity secret.
Joanna married and had three children. Her only memory was of being in the children’s’ home and she knew she was adopted and had been in Theresienstadt. When she was in her early forties, she was contacted by Sarah Moskovitz, an American academic. She had read a study by Anna Freud of Joanna and the other 5 youngest survivors of Theresienstadt. Both she and Joanna’s husband pushed her into discovering her past. This has been an extraordinary and difficult path for Joanna. She has now managed to discover much of her family’s history and has found living relations all over the world.
For the past 25 years, Joanna has told her family’s story throughout schools and universities in the UK and latterly in China.