England

Hitler handshake 'shame' of Guisborough Holocaust survivor

Hanni Begg Image copyright Teesside University
Image caption Hanni Begg moved to England after the war and now lives in Guisborough

Hanni Begg was a Berlin schoolgirl when the Nazis came for her family in 1943. Through sheer luck she evaded capture before later coming face-to-face with Hitler. This is her story of survival.

Her father had a plan for when the Nazis came for their family - they would kill themselves with cyanide.

But both the 14-year-old and her father were out when, in 1943, the Gestapo arrived at their third-floor flat in Berlin.

Her younger brother Max and sister Ruth were not so lucky, they spent the rest of their short lives in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

Holocaust Memorial Day: On the run from the Nazis

"I never saw my brother and sister again," said Hanni, now 86.

"I knew I wouldn't see them again, that was quite clear to me. I never had any more hope, by that time I knew too much.

"At first I cried. Then I just had to carry on and put it at the back of my mind."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was where Hanni Begg's younger brother Max and sister Ruth died

After Hanni's mother died of cancer in 1939, her father warned her of the threat their small Jewish family faced from the Nazis.

"They took all of our money and wouldn't give us ration books," she recalled.

"Right away my father talked about Mein Kampf [Hitler's self-penned blueprint for a Third Reich] to me. He said I had to be aware I would be surrounded by anti-semitism but would have to be very proud of my Jewish background.

"He also said we would get a letter from the Gestapo on some day saying they would come and collect us and take us to a camp for our own protection, each must prepare a suitcase, all our belongings would be returned when we came back.

"My father knew this was all lies. He told us not to believe the propaganda. He said we would never go to a camp.

"He brought out a box which had four cyanide tablets in it, he said when we get that letter we will all take the tablets and die.

"I thought that was romantic, that we would die together."

The letter never came, but the Gestapo did.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Hanni Begg found her father living in a bombed out building shortly before the end of the war

"When I came home from school some neighbours were waiting outside and said I wasn't to go in because the Gestapo would be waiting to take me away. I didn't see my father again for years.

"I had to disappear, but there was always some help from somebody despite the danger to themselves."

She lived with neighbours and friends who hid her real identity, part of which involved her going to school.

And it was there that she came face to face with Adolf Hitler.

"He came to our school. I was in the front row and I was the only child in that class from a Jewish background but I didn't look Jewish.

"He was surrounded by guards, we shook hands for a second and it was all finished.

"Afterwards I felt ashamed I had actually done it but I couldn't have done anything else.

"Firstly, I didn't have enough time to think about, and secondly, it would have been very dangerous if I hadn't."

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Adolf Hitler visited Hani's school but her Jewish identity was a closely guarded secret

As the war came to a close, Hani finally located her father through a friend - he was living in a room in a bombed-out house in the city.

He was suffering from tuberculosis and died on 9 May 1945 as soon as he found out the war was over.

Hanni buried him in the yard.

She was then adopted by another family before a friend saw an advert for young German women to move to Britain to train as nurses for the newly formed NHS.

Hanni moved and eventually married a doctor, settling in Guisborough near Middlesbrough, where she has lived ever since.

"Do I feel grateful to have survived? Not always, no, I've felt guilty a lot of my life that I'm the one here. Why should I have survived?

"It was just a stroke of luck that I wasn't there when the Gestapo came that I survived.

"I've had a happy life and normal life now, managed to have a family and I'm grateful for that."

Hanni was telling her story to BBC Tees after agreeing to share her experiences with student filmmakers from Teesside University.

Image copyright Teeside University
Image caption Hanni Begg told her story to students from Teesside University after being urged to share her experiences by her family

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites