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Historic visit honours Dann sisters and the Bulldogs Bank children

Last week we were honoured to be paid a visit by Shula Levital, niece of the sisters Gertrud and Sophie Dann who worked closely with Anna Freud during and after the second world war and worked in the Hampstead nursery.

At the meeting Shula was met by Jackie Young and Joanna Millan who were looked after by the Dann sisters as children. Jackie and Joanna were two of a group of six children who became known as the Bulldogs Bank children after the home they stayed in Sussex with the Dann sisters for their early childhood.

The children had been flown over from Czechoslovakia as infants at the end of the second world war during which they had been held for over two years in the Theresienstadt Concentration camp.

The children had entered the camp as babies and had been held in horrific conditions. Their parents had been killed soon after entering the camp; they had received no education or stimulation. They had, however, spent their whole lives together and they refused to be separated. The children could hardly speak and had not had the opportunity to build significant relationships with adults who were only held in the camp temporarily until they were transported to the extermination camps.

Jackie and Joanna were two of six children who became the subject of an important study into attachment by Anna Freud and Sophie Dann.

With the care they received from the Dann sisters, the children began to build relationships with adults and adapt to their new lives. Anna Freud and Sophie Dann’s observations were published in their ground-breaking study, concluding that children who do not made secure attachments to adults can make strong attachments to peers, and that very young children can develop a strong sense of fairness. It also demonstrated that children who have suffered severe deprivation catch up quickly when exposed to a stimulating environment and that they could correct their early behavioural problems.

The message from the study was that even very difficult behaviour may not be a symptom of a learning difficulty or psychosis, but a natural response to having lived in a disturbing environment.

The children remained very close to each other and although they were separated when they were formally adopted, they were reunited later in their adulthood.

Jackie and Joanna recalled their early days, flying over on a Stirling Bomber and arriving at a reception centre in Windemere on 15th August 1945, along with over 350 other children. Their plane was the last to land and arrived in the late evening. 

Their stay at Bulldogs bank was full of mischief and Joanna told how she used to raid the malt jar by enlisting the help of a taller child to reach into the store cupboards.

The children were later adopted and Jackie recalled how his adopted father turned up to the Hampstead Nursery once in a hired Rolls Royce to impress the staff there.

The reception was also attended by Amos Levital, Shula’s husband; Sylvia Lewin, Shula’s second cousin; Doris Balinsky, also Shula’s second cousin and Sylvia’s sister; and her friend Paula Rothman. Lita Young, Jackie’s wife also attended.