Steven Frank BEM has issued a stark reminder from the darkest days of Europe’s history about the descent into hatred and tyranny (Picture: Holocaust Educational Trust)
As the first Russian missiles struck Ukraine, Steven Frank BEM was reminded of the harrowing events he witnessed when the Nazis marched into his neighbourhood 82 years ago.
The Holocaust survivor said he was ‘deeply affected’ as Vladimir Putin launched the unprovoked attack, which triggered childhood memories of seeing Hitler’s troops on the streets of Amsterdam.
Speaking ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day this week, Steven, 87, told Metro.co.uk that it is ‘incredibly important’ to bring those responsible for alleged war crimes in Ukraine to account.
He is one of the few remaining living witnesses who can speak of the horrors in Europe which fractured his family life in the city after the Netherlands was invaded in 1940.
The Nazis arrested his father and took the rest of his family to the Theresienstadt camp in occupied Czechoslovakia, where he was one of only 93 children who survived out of 15,000 sent there.
‘The world doesn’t seem to have learnt from the horrors of the Holocaust,’ Steven said.
‘If you look at the number of genocides that have taken place since the Second World War and what’s now going on in Ukraine, there is a very similar parallel between what Putin is doing and what Hitler was doing.
‘I can remember what it was like when we were invaded, it’s an awful feeling when you are invaded by a foreign power. You are told you can’t do this and you can’t do that and you are restricted in your movements.
Steven Frank BEM is providing a timely voice from history warning of the dangers of tyranny and hatred (Picture: Tanya Harris/Holocaust Educational Trust)
‘Even though I was only five years old I can remember what happened and thinking it was really exciting. I remember seeing the soldiers on the streets with the jackboots and the grey coats and their rifles.
‘Little did I know as a child what their sinister intentions were.’
The reality soon became apparent with the secular Jewish family, who had turned down opportunities to flee to England, being broken up by the occupiers. Steven’s father Leonard Frank, a highly regarded lawyer who took part in underground resistance activities, including helping people to escape to Switzerland, was arrested, imprisoned and tortured.
His wife, Beatrix, and their three sons were transported to two camps in succession before ending up in appalling conditions at Theresienstadt, where disease alone killed thousands of people.
Steven Frank BEM was a child living in Amsterdam when the Nazis marched into his homeland and split up his family (Picture: Holocaust Educational Trust)
Beatrix and the children survived as the war ended, with the camp being liberated by the Red Army, and they were flown by the RAF to England, where they gradually rebuilt their lives.
They were never reunited with their father after his arrest; he was deported from the prison in the Netherlands to Auschwitz-Birkenau in occupied Poland where he was gassed, aged 39.
Seventy-eight years on from the liberation of the concentration and death camp, aspects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine which evoke parallels with World War Two include the reported forced deportations of children from occupied territory and the uncovering of mass graves in Irpin and Bucha.
In the House of Lords on Thursday, Baroness Sal Brinton described the alleged removals as a ‘chilling echo’ of how the Nazis relocated Polish children to German families.
‘Last February when the invasion of Ukraine began I was very deeply affected,’ Steven said.
‘I thought, “my goodness me this is just like what happened in the 1930s”.
‘Where is it all going to end? When you see the brutality that is going on in this war it is absolutely terrible and I feel so, so sorry for all of the Ukrainian refugees who have had to flee their homes and their countries, we have one living next door to us.’
Emergency workers clear the rubble after a Russian rocket hit a multistorey building in Dnipro, Ukraine (Picture: AP Photo/Roman Chop)
Steven, who lives in Hertfordshire, is a powerful speaker who has taken on the mission of telling children about the Holocaust, during which the Nazis murdered six million Jewish men, women and children.
Some of the most notorious Nazis responsible for crimes during the war were put on trial at Nuremberg after Germany’s surrender in 1945.
There have been repeated calls by Western leaders for a special international tribunal to prosecute the Russian leaders behind alleged war crimes in Ukraine, which Kyiv says amount to 62,000 counts including the deaths of more than 450 children.
‘I think it is incredibly important that they are brought to book, but the question is whether the perpetrators can be brought to justice,’ Steven said.
‘They are sitting safely behind thousands of miles of Russian territory. What I find terrible is that the people in Russia are unable or unwilling to protest against what is happening.’
Holocaust Memorial Day marks the liberation of Nazi concentration and death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945 (Picture: File image)
Established in 2000, the anniversary marks the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945.
The theme for this year’s commemoration, which is overseen by the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, is Ordinary People. The idea is to go beyond the industrial scale of the killing and see the persecuted people as individuals with lives beyond the images of death and war.
It also serves a reminder that the genocide was made possible by the participation and acquiescence of people from all walks of society.
On the day Steven, who has three children, three step-children and 14 grandchildren, will give a talk at a London girl’s grammar school as part of his mission to use the power of first-person testimony in remembering one of history’s darkest days.
The Holocaust claimed the lives of six million Jews who are among those being remembered on Holocaust Memorial Day (Picture: Getty)
He said: ‘It’s amazing how students in Year 9 with all kinds of other things on their minds take it all in.
‘Time and time again schools give me feedback to say of all the outsiders who came in to talk about all sorts of things, the one by a Holocaust survivor is the one they remember the most.
‘Hopefully by remembering they will think critically about what is going on around them.
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan lights a candle at Auschwitz-Birkenau to mark the 75th anniversary of the camp’s liberation (Picture: Reuters/Aleksandra Szmigiel)
‘The theme of this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day is Ordinary People, and it’s important to remember the Holocaust was carried out by loads and loads of people, from dustmen to churches. Everyone got involved, that’s the danger and the terror of this hell.’
The international day is intended to remember the Holocaust victims as well as those who lost their lives in more recent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur.
Those taking part on Friday will light candles in their windows at 4pm while iconic buildings and landmarks will be lit up in purple.
A Ukrainian refugee takes part in the annual International March of the Living through the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp (Picture: Reuters)
‘These things are very, very important,’ Steven said. ‘People are beginning to understand how important Holocaust Memorial Day is and perhaps learn the background to Ukraine behind all the news that comes out.
‘People are beginning to realise that democracy is a very fragile thing.’
The day is also intended as a wider stand against hatred and prejudice, encouraging people to speak out as Steven’s father did against the Nazis.
Karen Pollock CBE, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: ‘On Holocaust Memorial Day we also pay tribute to the incredible survivors, many of whom still share their testimony day in and day out to ensure that future generations never forget the horrors of the past.
‘This year, tens of thousands of people from across the country will hear from a survivor as part of their commemorations.
‘In hearing a witness, they will become a witness, invested with a powerful responsibility to share what they have learnt and to speak out against the antisemitism and hatred that allowed the Holocaust to happen.’
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Steven Frank BEM has been ‘deeply affected’ by events that echo the tyranny he experienced during the Second World War.