RAF CROUGHTON, England --
Silence fell over the crowd as a petite lady stepped in front of the podium and addressed her audience.
“It’s important to recognize evil when you see it, before it gets too tight a grip,” she said. “It’s very easy to fall into a trend. People are sometimes too timid, or too shy to say, 'I don't agree.' We’re all each other’s keepers.”
Hannah Lewis was born June 1, 1937 in Włodawa, Poland. Włodawa was a country town that gradually started to fill up with Jewish people as they sought refuge in the outskirts. Residents didn’t know what to expect, but they heard rumors of death camps being built in close proximity.
“Life had changed,” said Lewis. “Our house was crowded with families from central Poland, trying to find comparative safety. There wasn't a room that wasn't crowded with a family. There were yells and screams, and people just disappearing.”
Lewis’s father buried family photo albums and heirlooms in anticipation of a dangerous and uncertain future.
“My father said he did it if anyone survived, they would dig them up,” Lewis recollected. “If they didn't survive and people found them, they would know that we even existed.”
“I remember the day we were rounded up,” said Lewis. “We were given just one hour to pack up all our belongings.”
Six-year-old Lewis, along with her parents and close relatives, was marched to a labor camp a few miles away in a village called Adampol. In the camp, her family members gradually disappeared until only her mother and father remained. Her father managed to escape, and became a partisan fighter, often warning other Jews of danger.
The last time she saw her mother was on an ice cold morning, when a German killing squad rampaged through the camp.
Lewis recalled every moment of the day that changed her life, “Somebody shouted an order, and they started to shoot, and I saw her fall, and I saw the blood on the snow, and I grew up.”
Eighteen months after Lewis came to Adampol, they were liberated by the Polish People’s Army.
Lewis’ father found her and together they worked on rebuilding their lives. In 1949, Lewis came to live with relatives in Britain, while her father eventually moved to Israel.
Lewis works with organizations aimed at educating people about the Holocaust. RAF Croughton collaborated with the Holocaust Educational Trust to bring Lewis on base and hear her story.
“I speak quite frequently, at schools, universities, banks and businesses,” said Lewis.
According to Lewis, “I’m deeply concerned of man’s inhumanity to man, and the inability to learn, not only learn, but react to the lessons of the past. What is worrying, is that it [anti-Semitism] is rising and there are fewer of us to say, 'don’t tell us it didn't happen, we were there, it happened!' It’s very important that it’s taught, because human nature repeats itself. I don’t speak to schools to teach them hatred, it’s to teach them vigilance.”
“The generation of survivors won’t be with us much longer,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Ramstack, 422nd Air Base Squadron commander. “So it’s up to us to take the experiences from the people who lived and carry them into the future.”