THE passing of 95-year-old Australian Holocaust survivor Stephanie Heller last week marked the end of a remarkable life that she shared with her identical twin, Annetta Able.
They were listed by Guinness World Records as the oldest twins to have survived the brutal medical experiments of notorious Nazi Dr Josef Mengele in Auschwitz.
Stephanie and Annetta were born in 1924 in Prague. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia they worked in a Jewish orphanage until 1942 when they were sent to Theresienstadt. The following year, they were sent to Auschwitz, where Mengele immediately started his experiments on them.
At the end of the war, Annetta and Stephanie returned to Prague where they learned their entire family had perished. The twins enrolled at a nursing school and worked at a Prague hospital.
Stephanie subsequently moved to the newly established State of Israel where she met her husband Robert Heller.
After a period of time living in the East African town of Nakuru, in 1962 Stephanie and her family migrated to Melbourne.
Annetta and her family followed Stephanie and Robert to Melbourne the following year.
Known to family and friends as Stepa, Stephanie devoted much of her life to ensuring the horrors of the Holocaust would never be forgotten.
In 1985, the twins travelled to Jerusalem to give evidence before an international inquiry that found that Mengele should stand trial for crimes against humanity.
Stephanie was a guide at the Jewish Holocaust Museum for more than 15 years and was featured in the museum’s 2010 exhibition, Marked: Holocaust Survivors and Their Tattoos.
At the time she said it was important to educate visitors about the Holocaust.
The twins were featured in British photographer Harry Borden’s book Survivor, published in 2017, featuring more than 100 survivors from around the world. They were also interviewed for Fiona Harari’s book, We Are Here: Talking with Australia’s Oldest Holocaust Survivors, published in 2018.
Earlier this year artist Andrew Lloyd Goldsmith entered a painting of the twins in the Archibald Prize for portraits.
At Stephanie’s funeral last week, Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black said: “We are now going through the time of the very last survivors and we are aware that another step has been taken in turning first-hand lived experience into recorded history.”
At the minyan, Annetta said she was blessed to be born as Stepa’s twin. “Even during the darkest period, being twins and together made everything different. It was because we were twins that we survived.”