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Eva Clarke, born at Mauthausen when the Third Reich collapsed

11.5.2015 10:58
Liberated prisoners welcome soldiers at Mauthausen. (PHOTO:  U.S. Federal Government, Wikimedia Commons)
Liberated prisoners welcome soldiers at Mauthausen. (PHOTO: U.S. Federal Government, Wikimedia Commons)

Eva Clarke and her mother Anka Bergman escaped the gas chamber at the Nazi concentration camp of Mauthausen in the nick of time. Eva was born there on 29 April 1945 when the Third Reich collapsed.

Ms Clarke is one of the youngest people to survive the Holocaust. Now she is living with her husband, Malcolm Clarke, in Cambridge, England, and news server MailOnline says her story is being recalled during this 70th anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen. 

Hitler's people began to destroy the Mauthausen gas chambers on 29 April 1945 and planned to flee in advancing US Army. They had no time to deal with the newborn, who weighed 1.5 kg and whose parents had only newspapers to wrap her in against the cold.

The emaciated Anka gave birth to her daughter on top of a pile of bodies the Nazis had thrown into a wooden wagon. Most of them were suffering from typhoid fever.

Eva Clarke visits schools and universities, where she tells her story and will continue to do so as long as she can. Most people who hear it are amazed and captivated by it.

She says she primarily wants to document the courage and determination of her mother, who died two years ago at the age of 96. Journalist Wendy Holden have just published a book called Born Survivors in which she describes the immense effort it took for Anka, who spent four years total in the concentration camp, to conceal her pregnancy and deliver her child in those horrifying conditions.

Anka, a law student, was 21 years old when the Germans occupied Prague in March 1939. She was from a Jewish family, but her parents, Ida and Stanislav, who had a successful footwear business, were not practicing believers and raised their children in a spirit of freedom.

The family did not believe the German invasion would result in their being personally harmed. The Reich then confiscated their business as well as all of their property.

Anka remained in Prague, where she continued to study and met the architect Bernd Nathan, who was born in Germany and, just like her, was also not a practicing Jew. They married in 1940 and then were both sent to Terezín.

Bernd worked as a carpenter and Anka worked in the grocery distribution department. Even though the men and women were forced to live separately, Bernd succeeded in building a small private room in one of the buildings where they could meet.

In the summer of 1943 Anka became pregnant. According to the Third Reich's laws, Jewish newborns were not permitted to survive, and they told Anka she would have to hand her child over to be murdered.

When she delivered her son Dan prematurely, however, no authorities came for him. He died of pneumonia two months later.

In September 1944 Bernd was transported to Auschwitz before Anka could tell him she was pregnant a second time. She therefore volunteered for transport to Auschwitz as well, which she later said was the greatest mistake of her life.

Anka never saw Bernd again. After arriving in Auschwitz, like the other prisoners she was forced to stand naked in front of Josef Mengele, who asked whether she was pregnant.

She denied it and was then assigned to work in a munitions factory in Freiberg. In the spring of 1945 they sent her to Mauthausen, at which time she only weighed a bit more than 30 kg.

During the transfer to Mauthausen, just like everyone else, she spent 16 days almost without any food or water. When her legs buckled beneath her after she got off the train, the Nazis threw her into a wagon along with other ill people heading for the infirmary.

That was the moment she went into labor and Eva came into the world. A prisoner who was a doctor helped with the delivery, after which the child didn't make a sound for almost 10 minutes.

"No one can imagine what a person is capable of enduring," Anka Bergman used to tell her daughter. After returning to Prague in the summer of 1945 she learned that her entire family had been murdered.

The hardest news for her to digest was the death of her husband. Three years later, she married a man named Karel Bergman, who adopted Eva; he had worked during the war in Britain as an interpreter and fled there after the war with his family.

The book Born Survivors documents the stories of two other women who also gave birth while prisoners of war at Mauthausen. Their three living children met each other for the first time five years ago on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen and have considered themselves siblings ever since. 

ČTK, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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