Severely visually impaired illustrator Kimberley Burrows met Holocaust survivor Sabina Miller over lunch in central London. Sabina survived the Holocaust by fleeing the horrors of the Warsaw Ghetto and hiding out in the Polish countryside. Kimberley and Sabina discussed the importance of family and positivity to overcoming adversity – and how hatred can never break the best of the human spirit.
Kimberley Burrows meets Sabina Miller
Here is Kimberley’s illustrated response to Sabina’s story.
When Kimberley met Sabina
Kimberley and Sabina both enormously enjoyed their meeting – Kimberley recalls that “When I first met Sabina and she told me her incredible story, a few elements immediately grabbed me and stayed in my mind; the powerfully haunting image of two young girls (one of whom was a young Sabina) huddling together in a hole in the ground, against a snowy backdrop, with just a blanket between them, the harrowing sight of trucks continuously visiting the farm where Sabina worked, taking and transporting any Jewish people they could find, and the Sabina today and how incredibly strong and positive she is now that she has a large, loving family and no longer has to hide her identity.
She left the war without a family so I wanted to illustrate the family she has now, with Sabina surrounded by her grandchildren, the youngest of which is enveloped in her only possession left from the War – a patterned cardigan – which will be passed down through the generations.
I knew that I wanted to capture all of this powerful imagery in my response that I have called, simply, ‘Sabina’. My gift to her. Meeting her was such an honour and a wonderful experience where, in those few short hours we spent talking to each other, she influenced me beyond my imagining. Through her powerful storytelling, kind nature and wise words I have learned first-hand how strong people can be even after enduring the loss of family, identity and hope and that love, kindness and positivity can truly conquer all.”
Sabina was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1922 into a family of four children. Her early childhood was a happy one, even though Sabina recalls antisemitism in Poland being rife during this time. Her sister had struggled to gain entry to university because she was Jewish.
In her teens, after the invasion by Germany, the family were moved from their home to the Warsaw Ghetto where Sabina believes her father and mother most likely died of typhus.
‘I can’t be sure of what happened to my mother because I had typhus too and I blacked out for several weeks. When I came round, my mother was not there. I don’t even know who looked after me then. On the farm, I would tell everyone my mother is not dead. But I didn’t know.’
Sabina recalls that her older brother paid a Polish man to smuggle her out of the Ghetto along with her younger brother. From there she was taken to stay with an aunt who lived in the countryside. It was 1942 and she was 20 years old.
‘I remember we didn’t take off our yellow armbands [used by the Nazis to mark out Jews] during our escape because we were afraid, but we wore raincoats over the top to hide them’
Eventually Sabina found work on a local farm with 29 other Jewish girls, farming produce to be sent to supply the German wartime population. One day lorries arrived to take the girls away – no one knew where these transports were headed. Terrified, Sabina and her friend Ruszka made the decision to run away.
The only item Sabina had with her to remind her of her family was a wash bag with photographs inside. She recalls that they were thrown to her by her sister from a train headed towards a death camp. The bag was later stolen. Sabina never heard from her sister again and has nothing except for the cardigan she wore during those years.
Sabina managed to survive the war assuming various identities and hiding in the Polish countryside. Together with Ruszka, they spent the winter of 1942-43 sheltering in a hole in a forest that had been created by partisans. During the night they would visit neighbouring farms asking for bread until one day they were told by a local farmer to come separately, so as not to draw attention. One day Ruszka left alone and did not return – Sabina waited for her in the hole but never heard from her again.
‘When the war ended, I thought I was the last Jew in Europe’.
Sabina continued calling at farms to beg for food. A farmer’s wife offered her the opportunity to assume her daughter’s identity and work as a forced labourer in Germany. Sabina survived the rest of the war working under false identities, dodging the attention of the Gestapo. After the war Sabina was taken to a camp for displaced persons before coming to England.
She was apprehensive about telling people she was Jewish after hiding her identity for so many years. However, it did not take her long to grow fond of her new-found home: ‘I fell in love with this country because what I got was kindness and acceptance’.
Today Sabina is a great grandmother and values her family hugely. Her only possession from her childhood is the red cardigan given to her by her mother, which she wore during her time as a fugitive – it is the only link to her parents.
Kimberley Burrows is a young illustrator living in Salford. She has been severely visually impaired since childhood with only 10% central vision in one eye, which allows her to focus on her illustrations for only short periods of time. She has always had a strong interest in art despite her visual impairment. Kimberley recently created a composition for John Lewis’ 150th birthday, displayed at the Trafford Centre this summer, and is the RNIB’s Young Illustrator of the Year for 2014.
Kimberley wanted to be part of the Memory Makers project to honour survivors and share their inspiring and powerful stories through her illustrations. She connects with overcoming adversity and tribulation, and wants to ensure that the tragedies of genocide are not forgotten.