It was supposed to register a moment in a group of school friends’ lives – but this happy classroom picture ended up becoming a chilling reminder of the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust.
Just a couple of years after the photo was taken in May 1942, at least 27 out of the 45 Jewish children pictured had been killed by the Nazis.
Many had perished after being sent to concentration camps, where they were gassed on arrival, died on death marches or mass shootings, or from starvation and disease.
And for those who miraculously survived the same terrors, the faces of their old classmates – and the memories of their experiences – still haunt their every waking moment.
One of them, Frank Bright, shared his tragic school picture for the first time in a landmark BBC documentary, The Last Survivors, which airs this evening.
The film collects the testimonies from the last survivors of the Holocaust still living in Britain today, many of whom lost all or most of their families in the Nazis’ mass extermination of six million Jews during World War II.
Only a few thousands survivors of death camps such as Auschwitz and Belsen made it to the safety of Britain after the war, and only a few hundred are still alive today – all of whom were children or teenagers at the time.
Frank, now 91 and living in Martlesham Heath, Suffolk, said he has decided to share his old school photo in order to prevent the child victims in it from “disappearing into oblivion”.
He said he remembered gathering with his schoolfriends at the Jewish School in Prague, in May 1942, and clearly recalls each of the boys and girls pictured.
He said: “I call the photo ‘red for dead’. It’s pretty crude, but it’s to the point.
“Since I had the means and the energy to do it, I thought I ought to bring them back into memory, otherwise, like all he rest, they would disappear into oblivion.
“It’s a tragic photo. Not only did they die, but they obviously had no descendants, they never really had a life at all. They were all murdered for no particular reason.”
The children’s lives began to change forever just months after the photo was taken, as Hitler, who had already segregated Jewish families in ghettos, started to put his Final Solution plan into action.
The first trains taking Jews to their deaths in extermination camps began in mid-1942, and the killing continued until the end of World War II in May 1945.
Numbering each child on the photo, Frank used German records to discover how many had perished in the Nazi camps, marking each who did not survive with a red sticker.
He explains: “No 1 is a boy called Pick Haus, he was sent to the ghetto in November 1942. He was sent on from the ghetto to Auschwitz, and he did not survive. And of his transport of 2,038 people, only 144 survived."
Pointing to a girl on the photo, he recalls: “She had ginger hair as far as I remember, Suzanna Jung. She was sent to Auschwitz in October 1944, did not survive.”
Remembering another girl on the photo, he says: “A very pretty girl, Edita, I think I had a crush on her, but from a distance.
“She was sent to Auschwitz, did not survive.”
Frank said another of the boys, standing on the end of the back row, travelled with him on a sealed freight train to Auschwicz – but while he survived, his classmate did not.
He recalls: “Only he came to Auschwitz with me. He stood at the back of the hut in Auschwitz when the German manager called to select his slave labourers.
"He couldn’t see him because he was at the back, and he didn’t point to him, and he was sent on a death march instead. He died in the arms of his brother.”
Using the photo, Frank eventually traced the fate not just of his classmates, but of their siblings and parents too. Of the 131 children and adults he identified, he discovered that 107 were murdered.
He claims that while he wants to keep the memory of his tragic former schoolfriends alive, he tries to detach himself emotionally from them because it is too painful.;
“You just can’t afford to get too involved,” he says. “Otherwise I would be sitting here crying my eyes out.”
The BBC documentary spoke to other survivors of the Holocaust living in Britain, who spoke of their enduring trauma because of the horrors they witnessed as children in the extermination camps.
All were separated from their families with some vividly recalling the moment they saw their mother for the last time.
Susan Pollack tells of the journey she made to the death camps with her mother, when Jews were herded into train trucks like animals.
She said: “The trip was six to eight days. Many babies and children died along the way. There was no water to drink, that was in June 1944.
“I just huddled up to my mum. It will be over soon, just keep strong, keep hoping, it will get better – these are the words my mum repeatedly tried to reassure us with.
“None of us Jews who had been transported could realise what was awaiting.”
Another survivor, Zigi Shipper, remembered: “Every morning the train stopped and they used to throw out dead bodies.
“How can a child of 14 hope people should die so he’ll have more room to sit down. What has become of me?
"Eventually one early morning the train stopped through the slits of the truck I saw the word ‘Auschwitz’. I didn’t have a clue what it meant.”
Susan said: “I remember arriving very clearly. When the doors opened up and suddenly we had some fresh air, so we were kind of relieved in a way, we had arrived somewhere.
"Then the terror and the aggression hit us immediately, and the shouting, ‘get out!’, the Germans were waiting.
“There was a Hungarian-speaking victim warning us, quietly, ‘don’t say you’re younger than 15 years old’, and I just nodded, not understanding why.
"That was what saved me from being sent to the gas chamber on arrival.”
But Susan remembered how her mother was sent directly to her death.
She said: “My mother who was worn, fatigued, anguished, she looked much older than her age, she was selected.
"There were no parting words, there was just a hug, and ‘I love you’".
Frank also remembered the last time he saw his mother, who was standing in line for what he now knows was the gas chambers, then saw the flames from the furnaces which incinerated the bodies.
He said: “I didn’t see my mother but she saw me, she broke ranks, she came out, came to me, shook my hand and went back.
"It was only after we’d been shaven, had a short shower and given prison clothing, and we were led to our hut, that I went out and I saw flames. And I was told what they meant.
“Then I realised what happened. And I remember standing there looking at the flames and thinking, which of the flames is my mother?”
Maurice Blik lost most of his family during the Holocaust, including his sister Milly who was born at the Belsen concentration camp and died there before her first birthday.
Maurice, now a sculptor, remembered: “She was coming up to her first birthday. There was no-where you could go and get presents and things. I was five-and-a-half, and I’d found a carrot which was a bit bent and I made it into a little boat, I’d put sticks for masts in it and I was going to give this to her for her birthday.
“I kept asking my mother if it was her birthday yet, and she would say not yet, and this built up to when her birthday was so I could give her her present.
Wiping away tears, he says: “She didn’t get there, she didn’t make it to her birthday. She died and i couldn’t give her her present.”
He said that on the morning she died, his other sister, Clara, took the little girl’s body and threw it on the heap of corpses of others who had not make it through the night.
Despite more than 75 years having passed, Maurice and the others said it has not become any easier to come to terms with losing so many loved ones.
He said: “If somebody’s murdered normally there’d be some sort of action to catch the killer, there’d be some sort of way of putting that to rest, when the killer had been caught.
“But when its a number of people, your aunt, your two uncles, your nephew, your grandmother, your sister, your father, all murdered by people you can’t have access to, what do you to about it?
“It’s a hugely frustrating, angry feeling, you feel completely powerless.”
– The Last Survivors, Sunday at 9pm on BBC 2
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