A HOLOCAUST survivor has spoken out at a poignant service to remind people to do better, to respect differences and to never again accept discrimination and hate.

Dozens of community members gathered at St Michael’s Catholic Academy, Billingham, at a special Holocaust Memorial service organised by the Diocese of Hexham and Newcastle Department for Inter-religious Relations.

The event, held to mark the atrocities of the Holocaust and other genocides worldwide, included a poignant address by survivor Joanna Millan.

“We need to get away from the idea that people who knew what was going on were mere bystanders,” she said.

“People made a conscious decision not to get involved but it is possible to stand up and be counted, so something like this never happens again – it is really, really important.

“Crime and discrimination are getting worse, people don’t tolerate difference when we should.”

Ms Millan was born Bela Rosenthal, into a Jewish family in Berlin in August 1942. In 1943, her father was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and killed, just months later she and her mother were sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto in Prague.

“I was separated from my mother and was sent to live with other children,” said Ms Millan. “My mother contracted TB and died leaving me orphaned and alone.”

In 1945, The Red Cross took over control of the camp and Bela was liberated by the Russians. She was flown to England with five other orphans and was eventually adopted by a Jewish couple living in London. Her name was changed to Joanna and she was brought up with a new identity and urged not to talk about the past.

The memorial service opened with a welcome from St Michael’s head of school Andrew Ramsey and a reading of the poem ‘First They Came’, from head boy and girl Gareth Drysdale, and Elin Gittus.

Deanna Van der Velde, from The Anne Frank Trust read the poem ‘Leaving’ by Jane Spiro with Kim Johnson on the harp.

Candles and painted pebbles, with the names of Holocaust victims, were then laid at a specially commissioned metal sculpture of The Star of David, in the school’s memorial garden, created by North Yorkshire artist Eddie Roberts.