Jail helped death camp survivor get on with her life

SURVIVOR: Mihana Rose Rodin has lived an extraordinary life, but she says everyone has a story.
SURVIVOR: Mihana Rose Rodin has lived an extraordinary life, but she says everyone has a story.

Wartime ordeals have not scarred this proud Kiwi, reports Louise Risk.

Mihana Rose Rodin's home sparkles like an Aladdin's cave, with photos, gifts, religious motifs and glittering glass filling every spare space of her hidden Hamilton haven.

But there was a time when Mrs Rodin, 77, had so little she could not even prove her own existence, so the collection is little wonder.

That time was in post-war Germany, where Mrs Rodin, a concentration camp survivor, was desperately trying to secure a passport from the town hall in Munich so she could leave for England.

"I had no passport, no identity, no nothing," she says.

Not yet a teenager and bleeding from a shrapnel leg wound she suffered after sneaking across the border from West Germany, Mrs Rodin tried repeatedly to explain to the official that she existed despite her lack of a "sheet of residence".

But the official kept brushing her off, telling her that without the piece of paper, she was nothing.

"I went back, I don't know, six or eight times.

"He got angry at me, and then I got angrier at him."

She says she got so angry at the official she pushed all the papers off his desk, banged her fist down then punched him in the face.

"Can you feel that? I'm alive. I exist."

The official had Mrs Rodin thrown in prison, and at last, through her incarceration, she had the proof of residence she needed.

Rewind three or four years, and Mrs Rodin was a child named Mihana living with her family in Poland.

With the threat of invasion by Hitler hanging over Poland, she was one of several Aryan-looking children who was taken by Catholic sisters to Germany, where they were given German names - hers was Anna Rosa - and taught the language and passed off as German orphans to anyone who asked.

She lived with the nuns from the age of about 7 until she was about 10, when the lie was found out, and all the children and nuns were thrown into the Dachau concentration camp.

Mrs Rodin, who has dedicated her retirement to helping others through volunteer organisations in Hamilton, does not dwell on how difficult her own life once was.

To her, living in a concentration camp - where she learnt to suck an old rag to alleviate her hunger and to watch the light stream through a crack in the wall to mark the passing of the days - was what it was.

She says there was no special treatment for children, but she supposes that the wartime did not affect children as much as it did adults.

When the Allied forces came to liberate the camp, Mrs Rodin fled.

"It was one group of soldiers with guns and another group of soldiers with guns.

"I didn't know what was going on.

"I was scared."

She made her escape in the chaos, and then joined the hundreds of homeless people wandering without purpose, sleeping in building rubble, surviving on foraged berries and plants.

Mrs Rodin kept walking into West Germany, and later got shot as she was sneaking back into the East.

After the town hall official had her thrown in prison, it was once again some Catholic nuns who came to her rescue, giving her work at a rest home.

But Mrs Rodin had her eyes set on a new start in England. "I never went back to Poland. The Red Cross told me my whole family was dead."

She later learnt a brother had survived, but he also died before she was able to reunite with him.

And as for claiming her family's land in Poland, she learnt too late that there had been a six-month window of opportunity to apply. "I was just a child, how could I know that?

"I would like to go back [to Poland] some day, just to see, you know."

Mrs Rodin eventually moved to England where she worked as an au pair before meeting Mr Rodin.

His family was Jewish, so once again she changed her name. They married and emigrated to New Zealand in 1969.

After a year in Gisborne, the couple moved to Hamilton where they had two sons, David and Mikaere, who are two great sources of pride for Mrs Rodin.

When her sons were young, she ran a Steiner preschool from her home, and her younger son's interest in te reo and the Maori culture inspired a lifelong love and interest for her. "I consider myself tangata whenua," she says.

Mrs Rodin has self-published many stories and poems and would love to have more work published, but finding avenues to sell her books is difficult.


Waikato Times