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Lilian Levy

Arrived in Britain:
Place of Birth:
20 January 1946
Interview number:


Dr Bea Lewkowicz

Date of Interview:

Interview Summary:

Lilian’s parents Hedrich and Adolf Dreifuss lived in Frankfurt a/M, where her father had a silverware factory in nearby Hanau. He was arrested on Kristallnacht and imprisoned for several weeks. When he was released, her parents fled to Amsterdam. They managed to get visas to the UK and came in the summer of 1939 and therefore Lilian was born in August 1939 at the Royal Free Hospital, London. Her father returned to Amsterdam to sort out his business interest and her mother and herself followed him. They took the last plane from the UK to Holland before the outbreak of WW2 (on 31 August).

The family lived in Amsterdam until they went into hiding. In 1943, the family decided to come out of hiding because they thought that Lilian’s British citizenship, would allow the entire family to relocate to Britain. But instead, they were deported to Westerbork and in late 1943 to Bergen Belsen. Lilian stayed with her mother in the ‘Stern Lager’ (star camp). Lilian remembers that she was told that her mother had died and that some people took care of her. Only in the early eighties did she find out that a Mr Birnbaum and his wife took the Dutch orphans under their wing and even managed to organise a small ‘school’ in Belsen. Lilian was liberated in Troebiz and put into an orphanage in Laaren, Holland. In January 1946 Lilian arrived in the UK to be reunited with her aunt.

After a few months in the UK, Lilian was adopted by an elderly German Jewish refugee couple, Frieda and Heinz Davidson (he was a pediatrician in Germany and re-sat his medical exams and became a GP in the UK). The couple had already one grown-up daughter, who was a dentist in London. Lilian grew up in Swiss Cottage and went first to South Hampstead Junior School and then Parliament Hill Grammar school. Her aunt kept in touch with her and took her every Friday night to the Liberal Jewish Congregation (later known as Belsize Square Synagogue), founded by German Jews in 1939. The then rabbi of the Synagogue, Rabbi Dr Georg Salzberger, had married her birth parents before the war in Frankfurt. Lilian found a home in the synagogue, especially in the Youth Theatre Programme, called the Phoenix. She met her future husband, Herbert Levy, in the Phoenix, when he became its leader. 

They married in 1961 and settled first in Hendon and then in Golders Green and had two children. Lilian helped her husband in the wholesale hosiery business and they stayed very active members of Belsize Square Synagogue. Lilian found out a lot about her history when her aunt passed away in 1981 and they found all the war and post-war correspondence she had kept. Lillian managed to trace Mr. and Mrs. Birnbaum (who took care of her in Belsen) in Israel and they had a reunion in Israel.

Lilian’s husband Herbert became one of the main guides for the Anne Frank Trust. While Lilian supported him, she could not manage to talk about her history and still finds it very painful to recall her past.

Additional Comments:

Key words:  Dreifuss. Allerhand. Frankfurt a/M. Amsterdam. Bergen-Belsen (Star Camp- Stern Lager). Birnbaum – Dutch orphans. Westerbork. Troebiz, Orphanage Laaren. Adoption. Belsize Square Synagogue. South Hampstead Junior School. Parliament Hill Grammar School.  Anne Frank Trust.


Full Interview


Well I’ve so often heard, “Let it never happen again.” But it does. It keeps happening again, wherever it is, all over the world. And… So I suppose it ought to be talked about. But even with all the talking that one does it does happen again. I think human nature must be pretty awful to let these things happen all the time. At the moment we have a refugee situation coming from the Middle East, Syria and so on. And I think peoples’ reactions have been less than warm and whole-hearted. I think we could afford to be more accepting, and perhaps that is my own view, or perhaps it’s because of my own experience. I’m not quite sure which. But I just wish we could be more receptive to other people who have trauma and need us.

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