Birmingham’s only Holocaust survivor speaks of her harrowing experience

She came to a talk held by the Jewish Society

Most children in the UK are taught of The Holocaust during their school years. Yet it seems that the Holocaust, and the wider issue of genocide, is all too forgotten from university students nowadays.

On Wednesday 24th January, I attended a talk held by the Jewish Society at the University of Birmingham. This was a unique experience to hear the only Holocaust survivor in Birmingham, Mindu Hornick, speak of her experiences before the war as well as her time at Auschwitz, and her life since surviving.

As a child, Mindu was part of a Jewish family that lived in a town just outside of Prague and later in Hungary. That was before she was sent with her mother, older sister and two younger brothers on a crowded cattle cart to Auschwitz. When she first stepped foot inside the infamous concentration camp in 1942 she was only twelve years old and immediately separated from her mother and brothers, whom she never saw again.

She said: “When people ask how I survived, I always tell them the same thing – sheer luck.” Every day Mindu and the other women in Block 16, where she was sectioned, were fed turnip soup and had no sanitation or hope of escape. A Polish man had instructed Mindu and her sister, Eva, to pretend that they were in their late teens, and to state that they were seamstresses. This lead to them both being sent to work creating clothing for the officers and prisoners of the camp, in a section known as ‘Kanada’.

Mindu and her sister survived Auschwitz and were liberated by the American Army, who helped her to return to Prague and reconnect with an Aunt and Uncle who agreed to look after both sisters. Not long afterwards, however, the four were separated. Mindu and her Uncle were given ‘Stateless’ passports to fly to England, whilst her sister and Aunt flew to Australia. Within a few years, Mindu met and married her husband and they have lived in Birmingham ever since. Mindu gave no indication that she has seen her sister since since this separation.

What really struck me was not Mindu’s main speech so much as the unscripted ‘Question and Answer’ session that followed it. This was where I felt what could only have been a fragment of the true pain she experienced, as she spoke from her heart about her experiences. She told the audience about seeing others killed all around her, including a baby who was taken from its mother and thrown against a wall. It was harrowing to hear.

For the past ten years Mindu has strived to educate young people about the Holocaust. Alongside the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust, she raises awareness of a variety of other genocides that have occurred around the world. Many of which we have heard little to nothing about. It was remarkable to hear Mindu expressing her sorrow out to those who have lost their lives in places such as Darfur, Cambodia and Rwanda. Combined, these genocides amass a total of over 4.4 million deaths. These are events unknown to many students.

An article can only do so much, and words such as Mindu’s tend to be most powerful if you hear them spoken in person, but that doesn’t allow us to forget those who have unjustly passed away at the hands of others.

Holocaust Memorial Day occurs annually on 27th January in the UK. For more information please visit the official Holocaust Memorial Day Trust website.