TEL AVIV, Israel – "Never forget" is the watchword for World Holocaust Remembrance Day, commemorated this year on January 27.
Each year, there are fewer people around who lived through the horrors of the Holocaust – about 161,000 left in Israel. One of those remaining is Hanna Malka, a Tel Aviv resident who was 16 years old when the Nazis marched into Czechoslovakia and took over her country in one night.
She would survive the ghetto, the Auschwitz death camp and work in Germany itself, to tell her story to CBN News and others.
When she was 16, Czechoslovakia was an exemplary democracy in Europe, and the Czechs never thought Adolf Hitler would make a move to invade their nation. Yet on March 16, 1939, they awoke to a new reality.
"I opened the radio and I heard the president say, be all of you quiet. Don't fight, don't do anything. The Germans occupied Czechoslovakia," Hanna recalled.
For Hanna and others like her, life wouldn't be the same.
"For the Jews...everything changed," Hanna said. "First of all, I couldn't go anymore to school, then I couldn't speak with my friends, and I was at my age, the only Jewish girl,"
Hanna shared her story with journalists through a social initiative called Zikaron BaSalon – "Living Room Remembrance."
Founded 11 years ago in Israel, it's now in 65 countries, touching some 2 million people. It aims to connect Holocaust survivors, whose numbers are dwindling with time, to young people.
"Then, we had to give half of our flat to a Jewish family, because the Germans needed flats for the Germans. After that, we had to go to a small village. It was very lonely and very, very, very bad. So, my mother sent me to Prague," Hanna remembered.
In the Czech capital's Jewish Quarter, life continued for two and a half years. Then, in November 1941, Hitler said he was giving the Jews a city and began transporting them to the Theresienstadt ghetto.
"I was living in a flat of (a) Czech family who had two rooms, and every room we had 25 beds," she said. "So, we were about 70 people in a two-room flat and with one WC (toilet) and with one place to wash themselves."
For people of our age, it was actually, we could manage, we met each other and speak with each other. I had always the feeling that everyone there wanted to give the best of himself so that to make other people a little more happy."
Hitler used Theresienstadt for propaganda to deceive the world about what his true intentions were for the Jewish people. The children even put on an opera called Brundibar.
"It said that Brundibar was a bad man who wanted to do bad to them and wanted to send them somewhere. But they (were) fighting against him and in the end, they succeeded to be the winners," Hanna recalled.
Older people were deceived into paying money to go to Theresienstadt, thinking they were going to get special treatment there.
"Fifty people died, every day," she said sadly.
And all the time, the Nazis were transporting people to Auschwitz in Poland. Eventually, Hanna and the other children were also loaded on a dark cattle car and forced to travel for days, without food or water. The notorious Dr. Josef Mengele was among those greeting them upon their arrival. He chose 200 girls, including Hanna, to be used as laborers, and sent everyone else to the gas chambers.
Hanna described the scene. "We had to put down, everything we wore, we were naked. And they took our hair – not only from the head but from all the entire body. Everyone got a dress, mostly a summer dress, and we asked, ‘Where are all the other 1,300 people?’ And they told us, ‘You look to the sky, and you see the smoke. (These) are the 1,300 people,'"
Hanna and the 200 girls were then sent to Germany, and she spent the rest of the war as a maid or working in a factory for the Germans.
According to Hanna, they always tried to guard their humanity. "We wanted to stay people all the time. Maybe we didn't seem like people, but we felt like people," she said.
As Germany began to fall, Hanna's life was once again in danger.
"They wanted to send us, of course, somewhere, where they could finish us because they didn't want (that) the Allies should see what they made from us but because of all these (Allied) bombardments, they couldn't do it," she said.
After the war, Hanna returned to Prague in her home country, riding halfway on a Russian tank, and life began to return to normal.
"And then," she said, "I didn't want to stay. The Russians came to Czechoslovakia. There were two people. They were the Russians and the Americans. And the Americans were good, but the Russians not, not so much to speak about it."
In 1946, Hanna came to pre-state Israel. Like many survivors, she didn't share her story for years. Hanna's granddaughter, Ya'ara Malka, who joins her at events, was a teenager when she first heard her grandmother's story.
"The first time that I realized all the story is when I go with her to Germany. She talk like in the schools, and then I got all the picture and understand everything," Ya'ara explained.
Hanna, who will soon be 100 years old, has two children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. After everything she went through, she says she wants people to remember that no matter how bad a situation is, there is something or someone good to be found.
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