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Joanna Millan
Speak Up, Speak Out

Joanna Millan


Joanna was born Bela Rosenthal in August 1942 in Berlin.

At the end of February 1943, Bela’s father was taken from the streets of Berlin and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where he was murdered on arrival. Later that year, in June, Bela and her mother were taken from their home and sent to the Terezín (Theresienstadt) Ghetto north of Prague. In 1944, when Bela was 18 months old, her mother contracted tuberculosis due to the conditions in the camp, leaving Bela orphaned and alone in the camp.

Some of the women working in the kitchens would take food to the orphans. One woman, Litska Shallinger, knowing that the food in the ghetto was contaminated and working in the vegetable patch, would bring back fresh, clean vegetables hidden under her clothes, some of which she would give to Bela. After the war Litska wanted to take Bela home with her, but the authorities did not think that she had the means to care for a child. On 3rd May 1945, the Red Cross took over control of the camp and Bela was liberated by the Soviets six days later.

On 15th August along with 299 other surviving orphans, Bela was flown to England. When they arrived there were in fact 301 children including a little boy who had stowed away. After living in two children’s home with other child survivors, Bela was adopted by a childless Jewish couple from London. Her name was changed to Joanna, and she was told to forget her past and forbidden to contact the other child survivors. Her adopted parents pretended that she was their natural daughter and told her to keep her identity secret.

Joanna married and had three children. Her only memory was of being in the children's home although she knew she was adopted and had been in Terezín. When she was in her early forties, she was contacted by Sarah Moskovitz, an American academic who had read a study by Anna Freud of Joanna and the other five youngest survivors of Theresienstadt. Both she and Joanna’s husband pushed her into discovering her past.  This has been an extraordinary and difficult path for Joanna but has now managed to discover much of her family’s history and has found living relations all over the world. She speaks regularly today about her experiences during the Holocaust.

Joanna's testimony can also be found in the following books and films:

  • Love Despite the Hate Sarah Moskovitz;

  • Survival: Holocaust Survivors Tell Their Story, published by the Holocaust Centre;

  • The Children of Bulldogs Bank (film).

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