By Maureen Smojkis, Lecturer in Mental Health
School of Social Policy, University of Birmingham
A conversation with Kitty Hart-Moxon OBE, a Polish-Jewish survivor of Auschwitz who lived in Birmingham
I interviewed Kitty in her home near London in 2010, as part of my research into the Polish Community who arrived in Birmingham after WWII. The majority of the Birmingham Polish were Catholics and I wanted a Polish Jewish voice to be heard too. I had been searching for someone who was Polish and Jewish for some time and I met Kitty at a talk at the University and she agreed to be interviewed. I went to her home outside London, she was welcoming and thoughtful, asking about my father and his experiences of forced migration from Poland, and she understood why he had never talked about his own difficult journey.
Kitty Hart-Moxon was born in the south-west of Poland in 1926. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 she was 12 years old, she and her family fled to the Lublin Ghetto but were again forced to escape following extensive round-ups by the SS. Separated from the rest of her family, Kitty and her mother used false documents, supplied by a Catholic Priest, to travel to Germany where they worked as forced labourers. In March 1943 they were identified as Jews, imprisoned and sentenced to death. They were not executed but instead sent to Auschwitz, perhaps the most horrific of all the concentration camps.
Kitty Hart and her mother remained in Auschwitz from April 1943 to November 1944, during which time Kitty escaped death countless times and witnessed the arrival and ultimate fate of millions of Jews.
Eventually liberated from a camp outside Salzwedal by American troops in April 1945, she then spent one and a half years in Displaced Persons camps, working for the British Military Government and the Quaker Relief Team. Her mother’s sister and brother-in-law had fled Vienna in 1939 and settled in Birmingham. Kitty and her mother obtained entry permits to England to live with her uncle and his family, however people of Birmingham were not yet ready to hear about the horrors that had occurred in Auschwitz. Despite having a number tattooed on her arm people did not ask why. Her uncle forbade her and her mother to talk openly in front of his wife and daughters.
Kitty felt that she had missed out on so much of her education and, after an initial difficult period of adjustment, Kitty trained as a radiographer and qualified in April 1949.
Kitty married twice and has two sons and grandchildren, and was the first of the survivors to go back to Auschwitz in 1978 – her journey was the subject of a television documentary. Kitty has continued to tell her story to the world at organised talks and as part of young people’s education. She has written two books and been involved in other documentaries about her own experience and, in 2013, Kitty was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Birmingham.
Nearing the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, I listened again to the interview. Towards the end, I asked for her thoughts on why she survived when others didn’t – she said that mental strength and mutual support was important. In the woman’s camp, they formed small family groups of 3 or 4, understanding that through those means you can survive, alone you can’t because sooner or later you need help, and that they knew how to look after each other.
I felt that in today’s world these are important lessons for us all to learn. When I met Kitty she was warm and shared her story openly, I feel privileged to have spent that time with her.