Last week over 60 students from a number of post primary schools across the Newry and Mourne District heard Holocaust surviver Joanna Millan tell her story.

Joanna was born Bela Rosenthal in August 1942 in Berlin, Germany. In June 1943, Bela and her mother were taken from their home and sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto. In 1944 when Bela was two, her mother contracted TB, leaving Bela orphaned and alone in the camp. Some of the women working in the kitchens would take food to the orphans. On 3rd May 1945, the Red Cross took over control of the camp and Bela was liberated by the Russians. 

After liberation Bela, along with five other surviving orphans, was flown to England. After living in a series of children’s homes, Bela was adopted by a Jewish couple living in London. They decided it would be better for Bela to have a less German-sounding name so it 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 believes that the scale of antisemitism was such that Jews were discriminated against in all sections of society, even in England. Joanna went on to marry a Jewish man and has three children and eight grandchildren. She is a magistrate and today speaks regularly about her experiences during the Holocaust.

Students from St Paul’s High School, Newtownhamilton High School, Newry High School, St Joseph’s High School, Crossmaglen, St Mary’s High School and St Louis Grammar School, Kilkeel heard the testimony of Joanna as part of a visit organised by Newry and Mourne District Council and the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET). 

The Mayor of Newry and Mourne, Councillor Michael Ruane said “It is a privilege for us to welcome Joanna Millan to the District and her testimony will remain a powerful reminder of the horrors so many experienced. We are grateful to the Holocaust Educational Trust for co-ordinating the visit and we hope that by hearing Joanna’s testimony, which is one of tremendous courage during horrific circumstances, we will have the opportunity to learn where prejudice and racism can ultimately lead.”

This event has been organised by the Council’s Good Relations section and is supported by the Office of the First Minister and Deputy Minister.  It is part of a series of workshops that focus on the theme of ‘Dealing with the Past’ which seek to encourage all of our local communities to use the lessons we have learnt from the past to make a positive difference in our own lives, ensuring that we can all work together to create a shared future.

The Holocaust Educational Trust (HET) was established in 1988 to educate young people from every ethnic background about the Holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today. HET works in schools, universities and in the community to raise awareness and understanding of the Holocaust, providing teacher training, an Outreach Programme for schools, teaching aids and resource materials. Among HET’s earliest achievements was ensuring that the Holocaust formed part of the National Curriculum for History. Since 2005 the Holocaust Educational Trust has received Government funding for its flagship Lessons from Auschwitz Project, which gives two young people from every school and college in the country the opportunity to visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. HET also played a crucial role in the establishment of Holocaust Memorial Day in the UK and continues to play a key role in the delivery of this national commemorative event.


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