Mirjam Finkelstein, Holocaust educator and survivor of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, has died at the age of 83.
She was born Mirjam Wiener in Germany in 1933, but her family moved to Amsterdam later that year in an attempt to escape the Nazi regime. She grew up in the same community as Anne Frank, and knew her as a child.
Mirjam, together with her two sisters and their mother, were caught in Amsterdam when the Germans invaded in 1940. Her father, Alfred, who was by then in London, had attempted to arrange visas for them, but by then it was too late. They were taken to Westerbork concentration camp, and later transferred to Belsen.
In January 1945, the Wieners managed to leave the camp as part of an extremely rare prisoner exchange, thanks to a false Paraguayan passport which their father had obtained for them. Just a few hours after they crossed the border into Switzerland, their mother died.
“My grandmother thought little of her own welfare,” wrote Lord Finkelstein in an article for the Daily Mail in 2009. “Every scrap of energy, every scrap of available food, she gave to her little girls. So they should live, so they should survive, so they should be free.”
After the war, the three sisters were transported to New York on a Red Cross ship. They were later reunited with their father, and came to Britain to live with him. Professor Wiener’s archive on the Nazis formed the basis for the Wiener Library in London. His work documenting German atrocities was instrumental in helping convict Nazis at Nuremberg.
For many years Mrs Finkelstein visited schools in the UK to talk to children about her experiences during the Holocaust. Last year, she was one those photographed for a new book, Survivor, where each survivor pictured also wrote a small message concerning themselves and their experiences.
Mrs Finkelstein’s message read: “I think of myself as a person, a wife and mother first and a survivor last.”
Her husband was the late Professor Ludwig Finkelstein, who survived a Siberian gulag to become an eminent professor of engineering. The couple had three children, Anthony, Daniel and Tamara.
In the same 2009 article in the Daily Mail, Daniel, Lord Finkelstein, recalled his mother’s account of seeing Anne Frank and her sister Margot arrive at Belsen.
“She saw them arrive and remembers the details to this day, even though at the time there was nothing remarkable about the Frank girls. She recalls their arrival because my Aunt Ruth had been excited. Ruth was at secondary school with both Anne and Margot and she had been learning Hebrew with Margot.
“So when, in the autumn of 1944, Ruth saw Anne and Margot arrive, she pulled out her little notebook, the pocket diary she kept despite it being forbidden.
“And with her tiny pencil she wrote down the fact that the deniers still try to deny. That Anne Frank and her sister had entered Belsen.”