Fragility of Freedom
Steven Frank BEM
Steven Frank was born in 1935 into a secular Jewish family in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. His father was a well known Dutch lawyer who was born in Zwolle, the son of a doctor. His mother was the daughter of professional musicians who emigrated to Britain at the turn of the nineteenth century. He has an elder and a younger brother.
With the outbreak of war, the family, despite having ample opportunity to flee to Britain, decided to remain in Holland mainly because his father was the legal member of a board that governed one of the most advanced Jewish mental hospitals in the world and many workers in the field of mental health visited this place.
Steven’s father joined the Dutch Resistance where he organised the issue of false papers to enable people to escape across the border to the safety of Switzerland. He also helped Jews find hiding places and even hid Jews in his own home from time to time. At the same time he was working, reluctantly, for the Jewish Council of Amsterdam, which was forced to carry out Nazi orders. In 1942 he was betrayed and arrested in his office in Amsterdam and imprisoned, tortured and sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau where, due to his poor physical condition, he was gassed in January 1943.
Three of Steven’s father’s legal friends bravely petitioned the German authorities for clemency citing many of the good things he had done for the Dutch people. Although the Germans refused to grant this, they did allow his wife and three sons to be placed on the 'Barneveld list', a group of prominent Dutch Jews who were held in a castle at Barneveld rather than being deported to the East. This undoubtedly saved the lives of his family.
In March 1943 the family were taken to Barneveld and in September 1943 the group were sent from there to Westerbork, transit camp. In September 1944 they were sent to Terezín (Theresienstadt) in Czechoslovakia where the whole family survived and were liberated by the Red Army on 9th May 1945. Because of an epidemic of typhus no one left the camp for nearly a month. At the beginning of June 1945 the Dutch survivors were sent by train to the Netherlands. Steven’s mother, fearing that there would be no survivors in the Netherlands, protested and wished to go to Britain.
After a unique journey which included persuading the Royal Air Force to fly her and her boys to England, they flew from Plzeň, which was under American occupation, to Paris and on to Croydon Airport south of London where they were unceremoniously dumped on the runway after which the plane took off. Fortunately another plane touched down soon after and the family joined this group, probably Britons interned in Europe. The following day, Steven’s mother was reunited with her father.
Steven, his mother and two brothers slowly began to rebuild their lives in Britain. He now lives in Hertfordshire and regularly speaks in schools about his experiences during the Holocaust.