Surviving the Holocaust

An Educational Presentation for Schools

Fragments of a Lost childhood: Zahava Kohn in conversation with Ann Rosen


In 1944 , Rosy Kanarek is imprisoned in Bergen-Belsen, struggling to survive and to protect her young daughter, Zahava, from the horrors that surround them. Sixty years later, Zahava opens the suitcase her mother left for her. It reveals a remarkable archive – documents, photographs, and letters from the wartime years, all perfectly preserved. The discovery prompts Zahava to revisit the past and finally break her lifelong silence about her family’s incredible journey from the depths of despair to hope…and survival.

In 2010, Zahava published a book , ‘Fragments of a Lost Childhood’, based on the remarkable original documents she found upon her mother’s death 10 years ago. The book traces her journey from appalling childhood experiences in concentration camps in Holland and Germany – and tells of the astonishing twists and turns that enabled her entire immediate family to survive in the bleakest of conditions.

What makes this book particularly poignant is that it was the death of Zahava’s mother ten years ago, that brought it to fruition – as it is based on the discovery of original documents that Zahava found secreted in her mother’s flat as she undertook the painful task of clearing it out. This unique archive of perfectly preserved original documentation , photographs, and letters from the wartime years and from the camps, illustrate in a highly personal way, the bitter reality of day-to-day life in the camps. Zahava knew nothing about the existence of these documents until she opened the suitcase in which they had been kept.

It suddenly became clear that her late mother had gone to incredible lengths – and taken extreme risks – to ensure this evidence would be preserved in order that their story should not be forgotten. This discovery moved Zahava, a lady in her mid-seventies, to take a risk of her own and respond to her own daughter’s pleas to finally share her story – not only with her own immediate family but with the wider world and in particular, the younger generation, whilst there was still the opportunity to do so.

Stephen Smith (the founder of the UK Holocaust Centre and executive director of the SHOAH Foundation)

“The story of Zahava’s journey – from Palestine to Amsterdam and the concentration camps of Westerbork and Bergen –Belsen, and from persecution to survival – has never been told before. It is a remarkable and deeply moving story, but what makes it very special is the amazing wealth of personal letters and documents preserved by Zahava’s mother, the pieces of the jigsaw that gradually fall into place as the story unfolds…”

Sir Martin Gilbert

“This book is moving and uplifting; a cry of pain and hope, and a miracle of survival amid appalling destruction.”

Steven Frank, fellow Dutch survivor from Amsterdam and Westerbork

“From the moment I started reading this moving book, it took me back 60 odd years when I, too, as a Jew living in Holland was confronted with hatred. We travelled parallel paths. Zahava, just nine days younger than me, saw what was happening through those same young and childlike eyes. She saw how her enormously resourceful mother – just like mine – steered us through those terrible times with that strong maternal instinct. Both mothers kept all those letters and documents which miraculously survive so that the story of the Shoah could be accurately told. I never knew Zahava despite the fact that we lived together in Westerbork for four months and must have played together, but like her, all those children whom we met in the camps remained nameless afterwards. We both survived because we were extremely lucky and were in a ‘special category’. This is an unforgettable book which I can thoroughly recommend.”

“A very moving account. Puts life into a perspective that students find difficult to attain. The human contact here today has done more than many hours in the classroom” - Beal High School