Family Memories and a Timely Book




When I was seven, my parents took me, my brother and sister, around Europe on a three month camping holiday in a VW combi van.

It was a fantastic adventure.

Mum and Dad made my brother David and me keep a diary and so I still have a record of our activities.

Castles, palaces, lemonade, adventure playgrounds, and campsites with or without those primitive loos we called “holes in the ground” are made mention of on nearly every page of this battered old notebook.

I still remember visiting the attic in Amsterdam where Anne Frank and her family hid during World War Two. Later on the trip, I read the copy of Anne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl my parents bought at the premises. I was mesmerized. Mum and dad thought I was a bit young to be reading this book – but how do you hide anything when you’re all living in a van? Read it I did, and I had so many questions to ask them. Why would anyone want to hurt Anne and her family? It made no sense.

Until this point, and being only seven, I’d never dreamt that grown-ups could round up other grown-ups and kill them. I just found it so difficult to believe that someone called Hitler could have been allowed to kill people known as Jews – and millions of them. But I knew my parents wouldn’t make this up.

Along with all the castles, galleries, and famous sites across Europe, we were taken to see Dachau, northwest of Munich, the first “concentration camp” built by Nazi Germany. There was a large memorial sculpture outside which I wrote about that night in my little diary, it was so haunting. (While writing this, I looked up the sculpture online. It’s by Yugoslav sculptor Nandor Gid (1924-1997) a Holocaust survivor. Most of his family were murdered in Auschwitz.)

Which leads me to the new book I’ve just been reading, The Daughter of Auschwitz. It’s by Tova Friedman, 83, one of the youngest survivors of Auschwitz.

Born in Poland a year before World War Two started, Tova was just five when she and her parents were sent to a Nazi labour camp.

A year later, she and her mother were sent to Auschwitz II. And if you think, at that age – a year younger than when I read Anne Frank’s diary – she wasn’t fully aware of what was happening to family and friends around her, not so. 

At last, she’s telling her story, of a life robbed of a childhood.

Tova’s book is distressing, and compelling reading. She remembers hiding in a roof, staring out at a mum wailing as Nazi soldiers tried to get her to hand over her baby. What happened then, haunts her to this day. At one stage, she was sent to the gas chamber; but somehow came out alive. One day, her mother made her snuggle up to a corpse in bed; the only way to escape being captured and killed.

There have been countless other books about the Holocaust; but as the number of survivors dwindles, it’s more important than ever to hear every new story from people who actually experienced and bore witness to the horrors.

Tova, now based in the US, was horrified a recent survey there showed two out of three people had no idea how many Jews died in the Holocaust. And 23 per cent believed the Holocaust was a myth or had been exaggerated.



“Those astonishing, alarming numbers point to just one thing: anti-Semitism, or hatred of the Jews, is on the rise again in the United States and across Europe,” Tova says in her prologue.

“I find it very hard to believe, after everything we endured in the ghettos and the extermination camps during the Second World War, that the insidious attitudes of the 1920s and 1930s are resurfacing.  The Holocaust, the worst crime in human history, happened fewer than 80 years ago, and it’s fading from memory already? That, quite frankly, is appalling.”

She adds, “Just we were putting the finishing touches to this book,  President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops to invade neighbouring Ukraine, imperilling world peace in the process. The images were so familiar to me. Terrorized children and adults, destruction of homes and families, war crimes, millions of people displaced, hunger, bomb shelters and communal graves.. I hope that after nearly eight decades of reflection on man’s inhumanity during the Holocaust, Ukraine reminds us of the importance of helping those affected by the ravages of war.”

Gripping, heartbreaking, and uplifting in parts – after all, Tova was lucky enough to survive, largely due to the efforts of her devoted parents who risked everything for their child – The Daughter Of Auschwitz is a book worth reading.

The Daughter Of Auschwitz by Tova Friedman and Malcolm Brabant is out now.