From Dachau to D-Day

Written by Helen Fry
Review by Janet Williamson


In a twist of fate, German Jew Willy Hirschfield’s father transferred his family to Bonn from Graudenz fearing the worst if Graudenz became part of Poland. Willy enjoyed a happy family childhood until Hitler rose to power in 1933, when all aspects of their life deteriorated and they were classified as outcasts.

The day after Kristallnacht, 17-year-old Willy went to work and was ordered to hide by his employer, but it was too late. The SS arrested and imprisoned him before transporting him to Dachau concentration camp.

His family, who apart from his twin sister all died in the Holocaust, strove to obtain the emigration papers required to secure his release. Willy emigrated to England in 1939 and worked assiduously in jobs that aided the war effort. Governmental rule changes saw him arrested, interned as an enemy alien, and shipped to Australia on the troopship Dunera, which was torpedoed by U-Boat 56 just off the Irish coast. Despite this, the ship completed the hellish journey. At 21 he returned to Britain, signed the Oath of Allegiance and promptly enlisted.

As a tank driver in the 8th King’s Royal Irish Hussars he landed in France three days after the D-Day landings and was among those regiments spearheading the advance through Normandy, Belgium, and the Netherlands. He survived a direct hit to his tank and, though wounded, drove another tank over the border into Germany. He assisted in the liberation of Hamburg, and transferred concentration camp victims to hospitals. Willy proudly drove his tank past Winston Churchill in the Berlin Victory Parade in 1945.

He is a remarkable human being who bears no grudges despite the adversities he endured. His message to all is that you should forgive but should never forget. Highly recommended.