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'Nagymama' and I - Conversations with a Holocaust Survivor



The project “‘Nagymama’ and I – Conversations with a Holocaust Survivor” was supported by Humanity in Action as a grant competition project.

This is a story of how one ordinary women stayed human in the face of atrocity.

In July 1945, a young woman arrived in Malmö, Sweden, a year after she had been torn away from her family, from her home town in Hungary, and from everything she had ever known. As she disembarked the ship in the new and foreign country, she didn’t know anybody, own anything, or know what would become of her, but she was sure of two things: she was alive, and she was never going to return to Hungary. This is the story of Ilona Ström (1923-2015), the grandmother of Humanity in Action Senior Fellow and Humanity in Action Denmark’s National Director Mikaela v. Freiesleben.

Mikaela is writing a biography about her grandmother, who survived Auschwitz and Belsen in 1944-1945. The objective is twofold: to bear witness, as her grandmother wanted her to, through a personal retelling of Ilona’s life, and to give an example, through her own personal history, of how trauma is transmitted through generations. The latter made the book especially relevant for understanding the often neglected dimensions of trauma in war-torn and traumatized families who seek refuge in the Europe and United States of today. The book draws on recent research in trans-generational trauma in an approachable way, with the intention to affect and inform a broad audience.

A grant through Humanity in Action’s 2016 Grant Competition allowed Mikaela to complete a research visit to her grandmother’s hometown in Hungary. Through this grant, Mikaela was able to write the following here in Danish.