Meeting Reports (Companions)

11.11.2015: Eva Clarke of the Holocaust Educational Trust - report by June Huntsman

 

Armistice Day this year (2015), the 11th day of the 11th month, just happened to fall on a Wednesday, the day of the Companions’ Tea Party. Also this year, it is the commemoration of the end of the 2nd World War and the destruction of the Nazi concentration camps. When discussing this with a friend, a suggestion was made that I should contact the Holocaust Educational Trust to see if a speaker would be available on the day in mind and in particular Eva Clarke, someone known personally and living locally. I felt that we would be extremely fortunate if she were free on such a day as I realised that the demand on her time would be indeed high - especially after the recent publication of a book* on the life of her family and especially her mother, together with two other women, who had survived the holocaust in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.

 

Eva responded to my request then kindly invited Ron and I to the book launch at Heffers bookshop last July. We were stunned to say the least - with her story, and I felt excited with the prospect of her visit to St John’s and a fuller account of her mother’s life. We were not disappointed as the Wilkinson Room began to fill with only one spare seat. Her talk with appropriate slides, cast a deep silence throughout - lasting an hour ; and at the finish, we were invited to question or comment.

 

‘I was just dumb at the finish, and had to take it all in, ’ commented one to me later, ‘ I could think of nothing to say - no words, I just had to grapple with my feelings’ said another. I believe these feelings rippled throughout the room, but then someone eventually spoke.

 

Eva began with a description of her once happy and very united large Jewish family. Her father’s family lived in Germany until 1933, then he moved to Prague - a safer place at that time he felt, for Jews. Here he met Eva’s mother Anke, also Jewish, a pretty young law student who he married in May 1940. Eva went on to tell of the fate and persecution of the Jews and their indescribable sufferings. Her parents were deported to Terezin (Theresienstadt), north of Prague. They were young and strong and therefore able to work. This ensured that they stayed there for three years. Despite the sexes being separated Anke fell pregnant. The couple were forced to sign a document stating that when the baby was born they would hand it over to the Gestapo to be killed. Anke gave birth to a baby boy, who was not taken but he died two months later of pneumonia.

 

In 1944, Eva’s father was deported from Terezin to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Anke chose to follow him the next day. By now she was in the early stages of pregnancy a second time, was selected and sent to a slave labour camp near Dresden. She remained there for six months getting weaker by the day whilst her pregnancy was becoming more visible - which was very dangerous . Anke never saw her husband again. She later discovered that he had been shot just a week before the liberation of the camp.

 

As the Nazis retreated, Anke , now weighing less than five stone, and other prisoners were forced onto a train bound for the notorious Mauthausen concentration camp. This ghastly journey which took seventeen days. resulted with birth of her second baby in the coal truck in which she was travelling. A prisoner who assisted her turned out to be head of obstetrics at Prague Hospital!

 

This baby survived for two reasons; the gas for the gas chambers had run out and then three days after the birth, the American army arrived to liberate the camps. That tiny baby was Eva. After the war, Anke had re-married in Prague, this time to an Englishman who had served in the RAF, and in 1948, with baby Eva, they settled in the UK.

 

However there were two other babies and their mothers who survived in Mauthausen and their stories of fortitude, incredible courage and survival at all costs, is told with Anke’s, in the book ‘Born Survivors’ by Wendy Holden. Anke died aged 96, in July 2013. The ‘babies’ were united for the first time five years ago and have remained bonded as siblings ever since.

 

You can still watch the programme ‘Baby born in a concentration camp’ on Youtube, - the story of Anke.