Students, staff and sixth formers in a packed lecture theatre listened in awe as Mindu Hornick spoke about her traumatic experiences in Auschwitz, as part of the University’s Holocaust Memorial event.
Having already been forcibly removed from her home, and seen her father sent off to dig trenches for the Germans, Mindu was sent to the concentration camp at the age of 12, with her mother, sister and two young brothers. On their arrival, a Polish prisoner bravely told the girls to lie about their age and say they were seamstresses. Taking this advice, Mindu and her sister were sent on ahead, initially to sort prisoners’ confiscated clothing; they would never see their father, mother or brothers again.
Mindu shared her memories of the dangers of daily existence in Auschwitz, eating turnip soup and bread doctored with sawdust and chemicals, the smell of the camp, poor sanitation and the lack of any hope of escape. She told of the hours they had to stand, twice each day, for the selection process, when Josef Mengele would signal who would die, with a wave of his spotless white gloves.
Later, Mindu and her sister were moved to a munitions factory, where they managed to survive until the end of the war, along with their cousins, despite constant hunger, brutal treatment and the threat of disease.
“When people ask how I survived, I always tell them the same thing – sheer luck.”
When Allied soldiers were about to arrive, the Germans packed the camp survivors into a goods train, intending to bomb it before they could be rescued. Mindu’s eloquent story faltered, and the room was absolutely silent, as she described how the Allies mistakenly bombed the train and killed half of the 500 surviving women on the day before their liberation.
After the liberation of the camp in 1945, Mindu and her sister returned to Prague, but it was not long before they had to leave their home country due to the Soviet occupation and the regime’s hostility to Jews. Mindu came to the UK to live with a family member in Birmingham, where she later happily married and raised her daughters, while her sister made a new life in Australia.
It was many years before Mindu was able to speak about her time in Auschwitz; she told us that after the war nobody wanted to hear survivors’ stories. Publication of personal accounts, and in particular The Diary of Anne Frank in 1947, paved the way for other eye witness accounts, and Mindu has spent the last 12 years talking to thousands of school children and university students to bring this harrowing period of history to life, supported by the Anne Frank Trust UK. She wants to “share what is impossible to believe” with the next generation, in the hope that such atrocities will never happen again.
Mindu’s testimony received a standing ovation. It was an honour for us to hear such a personal and moving story from a survivor of the holocaust, and those who attended this event are unlikely to forget Mindu’s words, which are echoed throughout the University:
“…do not stand by in the face of injustice…”
27 January marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is the day chosen by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for everyone to remember the millions of people murdered in the Holocaust, under Nazi Persecution and in the subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. The day is also being marked in the University with words and messages of hope being written on stones by students, to reflect the Jewish tradition of placing stones on graves. This symbolises the permanence of memory, and references the Hebrew word tz’ror, which translates into both ‘pebble’ and ‘bond’.
Mindu was invited to share her message with the University by the Student Services Chaplaincy. If you have other suggestions of events the Chaplaincy could arrange, please share your ideas via firstname.lastname@example.org