Muslim student Rabia traces Jewish Holocaust survivor for talk at Queen Mary London Uni

Hannah presented with bouquet by Queen Mary students

Hannah presented with bouquet by Queen Mary students - Credit: Archant

Devout Muslim Rabia Ahmed set out to show the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust to her fellow students and bring people of all faiths together.

Hannah presented with bouquet by Queen Mary students

Hannah presented with bouquet by Queen Mary students - Credit: Archant

The 21-year-old law student from Forest Gate in east London researched the murder of six million Jews in the Second World War.

She was put in touch with a Holocaust survivor, Hannah Lewis, now aged 77, who was just two when the Germans marched into her native Poland.

Rabia brought Hannah to Queen Mary University in Mile End to meet to her fellow students last Thursday.

“We’re portrayed as Muslims as denying the Holocaust or that we don’t like Jews because of everything that’s happened in the world,” Rabia explained.

Hannah presented with bouquet by Queen Mary students

Hannah presented with bouquet by Queen Mary students - Credit: Archant


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“But those who died in the Holocaust were real people.

“It was important having a survivor come and speak while they’re still around—one day there won’t be a time when people like Hannah are around to tell their story.”

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Rabia did her own research and was put in touch with Hannah by the Holocaust Education Trust.

“I did the Auschwitz Project and visited Poland,” she added. “I saw the concentration camps—that really affected me.”

Hannah returns to Wlodawa in 1985... synagogue still stands, but the well has gone

Hannah returns to Wlodawa in 1985... synagogue still stands, but the well has gone - Credit: Hannah Lewis family

Hannah Lewis gave a moving account of her early Jewish life under Nazi occupation when she was marched off at the age of four with her family to a work camp—and witnessed her mother being rounded up by a killing squad, lined up by a village well and shot.

Her father who had escaped to join the Partisans had returned to warn his family that SS Einsatzgruppen death squads were coming.

But Hannah, by now aged six, was ill with suspected Typhus and her mother didn’t want to expose her to the bitter winter cold, so they remained at the camp.

Hannah recalled: “The trucks came with the soldiers and the dogs early the next morning. There was a whack at the door with a rifle butt.

Hannah returns to Wlodawa in 1985... synagogue still stands, but the well has gone

Hannah returns to Wlodawa in 1985... synagogue still stands, but the well has gone - Credit: Hannah Lewis family

“My mother calmly gave me a big hug and a kiss, got up and walked to the door and closed it behind her.

“She left me behind and eventually I went out onto the steps to look for her. I saw her with others being pushed to the village well.

“I saw her being shot. I saw her fall and the blood on the snow. I watched my mother die.”

Hannah knew she must not give herself away by crying—or be dragged to the well and murdered alongside her mother.

Hannah returns to Wlodawa in 1985... synagogue still stands, but the well has gone

Hannah returns to Wlodawa in 1985... synagogue still stands, but the well has gone - Credit: Hannah Lewis family

“At that moment I grew up,” she continued.

“One thing that really haunted me as I got older and can’t come to terms with is my mum’s decision not to look at me when she was being shot. It saved my life.”

It was the last winter of the war and Hannah was eventually liberated by Soviet forces. A Russian soldier found her starving in a ditch. She came to London in 1949 as a 12-year-old refugee to live with her great uncle, where she settled, married and raised her own family and now has grandchildren.

People often ask, like the Queen Mary students last Thursday, if she can forgive.

“It’s not for me to forgive for all those who died,” Hannah tells you. “I am not empowered to speak for the six million and many others who were murdered. I can only speak for myself.”

She is glad to survive—but even today, 70 years on, still feels cheated in life.

“My one regret is that the man who cause it all wasn’t captured,” she adds. “He took the cowards’ way out.

“I would have loved to have seen Hitler stand trial. I resent the fact that he shot himself and feel cheated by it.

“But I have the responsibility of a survivor, instead, to tell it as truthfully as it was.”

Hannah returned to eastern Poland for the first time in 1985 looking for the village well where her mother was shot—but it had been covered up over the years.

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[My sincere apologies for slight error in Rabia’s name in our print edition - Mike Brooke]

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