Year 12 Modern History Incursion

Our Year 12 Modern History Class engaged in an incursion on the Holocaust with the Jewish History Museum of Sydney via Zoom. The morning started with a seminar on the impact of the Nazi regime on life in Germany, focusing on the impact on women and cultural expression.

Through this workshop, students gained a deeper understanding of the Nazi’s use of power and authority over the German citizens, to indoctrinate the Aryan race while vilifying the ‘degenerates’. The seminar was followed by an interview with a Holocaust survivor, Francine Lazarus, whose story of terror and resilience left the whole class in tears. 

Francine’s Story 

Francine was only two when the war started. Through her story, she weaved in and out about her first years in hiding, telling stories about close encounters with the Nazi Officials and the Gestapo, as well as highlighting the terror that was prominent around her.  

As a child, Francine was moved to safe houses for her protection, concealing her from the Nazi’s grasp. Francine described her first safe house – a farm that was owned by members of a Nazi resistance group. She was placed here for 18 months until one day two trucks pulled up outside. The lady who she was staying with grabbed Francine and together they hid within the hay barrels, while the men of the household were taken away. The Gestapo men had pushed their pitchforks into the hay barrels, in search of radios or illegal items, but unbeknown to them, a young Jewish girl was hiding there. Francine and her carer narrowly missed detection. 

Francine then described how she had to leave the farm after the Nazi visit, as it was no longer safe for her to stay. She returned home to Brussels to live with her grandparents. One day, she was sent to live with her father’s accountant. There she was strictly to stay in hiding to avoid detection. She often had to hide in cupboards when unexpected guests came around. As Francine stated, “it was a matter of life or death that I didn’t move”. Francine continued to tell of her time with the accountant and his wife, explaining that here she felt extremely unloved and that it was a horrific and disturbing time of her life. Francine was eventually abandoned, thrown out onto the streets, alone and vulnerable. She was only six years old. 

Throughout Francine’s story, she also discussed her father. She remembered vividly one day when he left the confines of their house, never to return. Later on, she found out he had been arrested and taken to Auschwitz, a concentration camp in Poland, sent on the last convey from Belgium on 31 July 1944 and sadly killed that same day. After her father died, Francine and her brother were left in the care of their mother, who sent them off to the foster care system.

One of the workers suggested Francine, who was eight at the time, start school. She enrolled in a primary school and took classes with the junior children, having missed a chunk of her education. This was the first time Francine had really played or spent time around a large group of children her age, as she had been so isolated for the first years of her life. Francine was deprived of clean clothes and proper fitting attire, resulting in her being bullied and picked on by the other students, however, regardless of this she still managed to top her course academically in primary school. Francine wished to continue her education into high school, however, her mother needed her to come to take care of a new baby. Francine described that she was made a “servant” to her mother to raise the little girl. Once she was not needed anymore Francine was sent to Australia. She describes the first sight of the Sydney harbour as “landing in paradise”. 

At the age of 40, Francine decided to continue her high school education, applying to TAFE and completing her HSC in three years. She then went on to university and completed a double degree and attained a Master’s in French Literature. At the same time, she wrote a novel called A Hidden Jewish Child From Belgium, which highlights her story. Francine also went on to marry and have three children and was determined to provide them with the loving childhood she never had. 

After hearing Francine’s story the class was left speechless. Francine’s story is an unmistakable example of defying the odds. Being a young Jewish girl growing up in Nazi Germany, while also simultaneously being from a broken family, her resilience is inspiring. Considering the ongoing attacks on Ukraine, her story felt raw and real, leaving an ongoing impact on everyone in the room.

Francine told us that she, like many other Jewish children who had not experienced concentration camps, were told to be quiet and not to talk about their experiences, however, she now knows how important and impactful her story is. Francine reminded us all that day to never take anything for granted and to be grateful for what we have. She left us with one message, reminding us to go home and hug our family members, and to tell them that we love them, something she wished she could have experienced as a little girl. She asked us to not be bystanders and challenged us to stand up for what is right. And thus, I hope Francine’s story is one we can all take inspiration from, and in times of uncertainty and fear, I hope we can all remember the story of the hidden Jewish child from Belgium.


Emma Edmonds, Year 12 Student
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