The Guardian

‘The Nazis tried to kill kindness. We fight against that’

The daughter of two Holocaust survivors and the grandson of an SS officer are travelling the country, trying to stem the tide of antisemitism. They talk about what brought them together
Derek Niemann and Noemie Lopian. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Noemie Lopian, a 52-year-old Holocaust educator, grew up in Munich and Manchester hardly speaking about the Holocaust, even though both of her parents were in it. Her French mother, Renee, was questioned at gunpoint by the Gestapo at the age of 10 and imprisoned in the Prison du Pax in Annemasse, on the border between France and Switzerland. She was saved by the town’s lord mayor, Jean Deffaugt, who persuaded the Gestapo to release the youngest children into his care, and the resistance fighter Marianne Cohn, who rescued at least 200 Jewish children during the war by smuggling them out of France’s occupied zone.

Lopian’s Polish father, Dr Ernst Israel Bornstein, was arrested at 18 and moved between seven concentration camps during the war, enduring a number of long death marches. He was liberated near Munich by American soldiers on 30 April 1945.

Derek Niemann, 57, lives in Bedfordshire and is a writer, teacher and contributor to the Guardian’s country diary. Niemann knew nothing about his connection to the Holocaust until he was 49, when he found out, to his shock, that his paternal grandfather, Karl Niemann, was a Nazi war criminal.

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