FROM the tranquility of Lake Garda in Italy to the turning of autumn leaves in Highgate, the latest artworks by 89-year-old artist Lily Freeman, which go on display in Hampstead this week, suggest a world filled with optimism.

In her own words, the vibrant oils and watercolours are “happy paintings” of the Golders Green artist’s favourite places to visit. But they are also “happy” because they symbolise Lily’s strength of spirit as a Holocaust survivor.

Born in Vienna to Jewish parents Ella and Hans Moritz Fischer, Lily was just 18 when the German troops marched into Austria. Her father, who had served as a major in the Austrian army, did not believe the family would be harmed by Hitler’s new regime but they soon discovered otherwise.

She tells me: “One day I was walking home with a friend and four SA (stormtroopers) came along. They started to beat my friend and I didn’t understand why – I didn’t get the idea. But then they started to hit me as well.”

Adjusting her skirt, Lily shows me the scar behind her knee that she still bears today from the beating.

She continues: “Everyone eventually lost their jobs, so there was no income, no food, nothing. I decided to volunteer at a soup kitchen and I saw people who were once rich and respectable now holding tin cups.

“One day, the SA came in and turned the cauldron upside down on the floor.

"Because the people were so hungry, they began to shovel it up and the Nazis took photographs. The next day, it was in Der Stürmer, with the headline, ‘Dirty Jews eat off the floor’. It was terrible.

“Perhaps the most sadistic thing I saw in my whole life was an old man being given a thimble and asked to fill a basin of water on the third floor of a building. He ran up and down those steps until he collapsed altogether.”

After witnessing Kristallnacht on November 9, 1938, Lily decided to flee Austria, but she was unable to persuade her parents to join her. It was another 60 years before she discovered they had perished in a mass grave in Yugoslavia.

Now alone, Lily endured a risky journey to Amsterdam, which included fleeing from the Gestapo, running across a field at night and dodging gunfire. She then enjoyed a few months of relative safety until the Nazis invaded Holland in May 1940. Through perseverance, Lily managed to secure a place for herself on one of two buses leaving for the harbour.

Lily remembers: “The sky was on fire, burning red because the Dutch had burned the oil fields.

"I was thinking to myself, I won’t live through this. Then I saw people from the bus in front loaded onto a boat and seconds later a German plane came down and bombed them.”

In what Lily terms as “nothing short of a miracle”, her boat, filled with more than 100 refugees, was spared because the German bomber had run out of ammunition.

Seven days later, Lily disembarked at Liverpool, but without official papers, was promptly arrested as an enemy alien. After spending some time in Holloway Prison, she was transferred to the Isle of Man, where she stayed for more than a year before proving her identity as a Jewish refugee.

After years of turbulence and uncertainly, Lily was free to settle into life in England, and in 1944 she married another refugee from Vienna, Fritz Freeman. A year later the couple had a daughter, Ruth, who now lives in New York.

Lily went on to become a successful provisions broker in the city, but at the age of 40 decided to return to art, something she had loved in her early life. After studying at the Arthur Segal School in Hampstead, Lily completed an art degree through Open University and lectured for 25 years at the University of the Third Age.

She has also exhibited her work extensively in London, New York and Vienna.

While Lily speaks openly about her past, she tells me this is not reflected in her paintings. Art for her is reserved for “things I love – and I love beauty and spirituality. That is what uplifts me and that is what has got me through.”

Lily Freeman’s Happy Paintings runs from Thursday, May 7 to Sunday, May 17 at Burgh House, New End Square, Hampstead. Details: