Eighty-nine-year-old Holocaust survivor Verona Phillips’ mind is a picture book – and its pages often turn back to her horrific experiences in World War 2 Nazi concentration camps when she was a young girl.
Those images left indelible prints on her mind. “I so often wish it would disappear. I still feel the pain and the anger. Never will I forget the smoke that consumed my life forever,” she says.
Phillips spoke in a frail, yet resilient, voice as she delivered her keynote speech yesterday to hundreds of people at this year’s Holocaust Remembrance Day at the Martyr’s Monument in the West Park Jewish Cemetery in Johannesburg.
She is of Hungarian decent, born in Budapest, and remembers the day in 1940 that her home became hell. Adolf Hitler left his “blueprint” on the country in that year, she says.
Of the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, 10% came from Hungary. Her two cousins were shot in front of her eyes “and I suffered eight miscarriages, after, from the torture”.
“One year before liberation, we were all marched to the concentration camps. I see a picture of my wonderful father, who was taken into the labour camps. My uncles and cousins were also taken into those camps.”
She never saw her father again. Phillips recalls a family photograph at their Budapest home, an image that overpowers all others.
“These memories flood back and I ask myself: why did I survive? How did I survive? Who am I? I am one of the last survivors of the concentration camps.”