Holocaust Survivor Mala Tribich Visits Queen Anne’s
Tuesday 28th June 2016
On Monday 9 of May 2016, an inspirational woman called Mala Tribich visited Queen Anne’s School to tell us her tragic and brave story of her time during the Holocaust.
Mala was one of three children, who lived in Piotrków Trybunalski, Poland with her parents and siblings. She is of Jewish heritage, and was only eight years old when the Nazi’s invaded Poland in 1939. Despite having to live in an overcrowded Polish ghetto (the first to be constructed), surviving through the deportations, and the appalling conditions of the Bergon Belson concentration camp, she managed to survive the war which ended when she was fourteen years old. Through these horrific situations she took complete care of her petrified five year old cousin, Ann Helffgot, who, with Mala’s help, also managed to come out alive. Mala, and her brother, Ben were the only surviving members of her immediate family, and after moving to England, Mala was determined to learn English and make a life for herself.
Mala’s story was devastating yet inspiring. However, there were particular moments that had the greatest impact on us, and we each took away an immense appreciation for our family:
“Attending this talk was really important for me and my mum, as my grandfather was a prisoner at the Bergen Belson concentration camp. I talked to Mala at the beginning of the talk, inquisitive as to whether she may know him. I told her his story, how he was saved by a courages lady called Sister Luba. Mala told me she knows exactly who my grandfather is, as they have met at reunions and on various other occasions. In Mala’s story she said that she met Sister Luba too. This connection was really important for me, and made me very emotional during the talk. There were some particular parts of Mala’s account that moved me the most. When Mala and her cousin, Idzia were in hiding from the deportations, Idzia was so homesick that she begged to go back and hide with family friends who were keeping their valuables safe. When Mala was taken to Piotrków where she was reunited with her father and Idzia’s father, her uncle asked where Idzia was, but nobody knew. He desperately begged for an answer, ‘Where’s my daughter?’ Mala told us how she clearly remembered his face turning white. It was then presumed that she was taken alone and killed. Mala’s auntie was distraught that there was ‘no one there to hold her hand’ as she was taken to the gas chambers, the fate that she had to assume became of her daughter.”
L6 student, Annabel Marlow
“The Holocaust has left a devastating mark on my family as both of my my Grandparents spent time in multiple concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Bergen Belson. Unfortunately my Grandparents never had the strength to share their experiences with me as it was too upsetting for them to speak about as well as me being to young to fully understand the hardships they had been through. When Mala gave her speech it meant a great deal to me as I could hear a surviver story that was similar to my grandmothers. After leaving the talk I could feel the sadness that I hadn’t fully expressed before bubbling up inside me and burst into tears. Her talk helped me fill in the blanks of what my grandmother might have been through, who was also a prisoner at Bergen Belson. When Mala talked about being liberated and how she realised that she had lost most of her family members I thought about my Grandmother and how alone and helpless she must have felt during that time. I cannot imagine what my Grandparents must have been through. They have seen terrors that are indescribable and worse than anyone should ever have to go through. I now want to raise more awareness to similar situations that are occurring today such as the refugee crisis knowing that my Grandparents were in a similar predicament and how proud it would have made them seeing me stand up for basic human rights.”
L6 student, Debbie Prawer
“It wasn’t until a couple of hours after Mala’s talk that the effects of what she said really hit me and I broke down in tears. I realised that my most commonly reoccurring thought was of all the stories that were lost. Each one of those people murdered in the genocide had their own experiences and passions and talents, and everything that made them who they were was gone within minutes in the gas chambers. It was this that made me stop thinking of the Holocaust as a tale from the past and started understanding the reality and enormity of it. I understood for the first time just how lucky I was that my great-grandfather managed to escape Poland a few years before the war broke out. It was only later that he discovered the horrors of the Holocaust and how many family members and friends he had lost in the genocide. Mala saw terrors worse than anyone should ever have to go through from age eight to fourteen, but her courage was that of utter inspiration. When she was only twelve years old, Mala found herself asking a Nazi Official if she could return to her father and brother in the Ghetto as opposed to following the others in line onto a truck. While he ‘smiled’ and agreed to her plea, Mala refused to leave without her terrified five-year old cousin. She protested when the soldier said no, and refused to give up. Without her incredible courage, neither she nor her cousin would have survived as the others in line were killed and thrown into mass graves. This inspired me to never give up fighting for something I believe in, as if you don’t do something about it, nothing will ever change.”
L6 student, Sasha Eastabrook
Mala’s story really hit us as we realised that many relatives of ours, being of Jewish heritage, would have gone through similar situations, and many would not have survived. Without the support from other countries allowing those who were being persecuted by the Nazi regime, none of us would be here today. However, we later learned that Hitler’s first proposition to rid Germany (and the rest of Europe) of Jews was to send them to other countries. However, these places Hitler wanted to send them to would not take them in, so much of the blood that was spilt was down to those who refused to provide refuge for those of minority races in this situation. We recognised the parallel between this issue in the 1930s-40s and the affairs about Syrian refugees today, and this inspired us to do something about today’s matter. Before this talk, we never thought much about the refugee crisis as it felt so distant from our lives. Now, it feels a lot more real to us as we descend from recent generation immigrants, and a similar situation is happening to refugees today as our families would have gone through eighty odd years ago. We realised how unethical the debate between saving thousands of lives by allowing fleeing immigrants into our country and the selfish desire for more money is, and decided that we want to do something about the issue rather than watching it all take place before us.
Whilst the three of us had already decided on a visit to Auschwitz this upcoming August, Mala’s story made it even more imperative for us to go so we can fully understand the horrors that our families have had to go through, and raise awareness of the true terrors of the Holocaust so nothing like it will ever happen again.
Written by Sasha Eastabrook, Debbie Prawer and Annabel Marlow, L6