The following article appeared recently in a free publication and I thought it deserved a larger audience …..
Holocaust survivor Eva Clarke spoke recently to the students of St Paul‘s High School Bessbrook about her life. This lady is a mere two years older than your editor and it is almost unbelievable the difference in our paths through this world!
Ms Clarke was born at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria on the 29 April 1945 just three days before its liberation. How she came to be there is a moving tale, her mother while carrying her in the womb being one of the last persons to enter that infamous death camp.
Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, the year that Eva’s father left Hamburg for Prague. In Prague he met Eva’s mother Anna. The couple married on 15 May 1940. In December 1941 they were sent to Terezin/Theresienstadt, a ghetto just outside Prague. They were young and strong and considered competent workers and an integral part to the running of the ghetto. This ensured that they stay in the ghetto for three years, an unusually long period of time. Despite the sexes being separated in the ghetto, Anna became pregnant. The couple were forced to sign a document stating that when the baby was born it would have to be handed over to the Gestapo to be killed.
Yet before the ghetto officials knew of the birth of Anna’s son Dan, the infant died of pneumonia at two months of age. His death nevertheless meant the preservation of Anna’s life. Eva’s father was deported out of the ghetto and Anna – unaware of his final destination – chose to follow him on another transport, despite being pregnant for a second time (with her soon-to-be daughter Eva).
Anna arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau on 1 October 1944. Had she arrived with a born baby she would have immediately been sent to the gas chamber but because she did not – and her pregnancy was not yet evident – she was selected to work as a slave labourer in an armaments factory in Freiberg near Dresden. She remained there for six months getting weaker by the day while becoming more visibly pregnant.
Tragically she never saw her husband again and he never knew that she was pregnant. She learned after the war that he had been shot on 18 January 1945, less than a week before the liberation of Auschwitz by the Russian army. As the Nazis retreated Eva’s mother and her fellow prisoners were forced onto a train evacuating them to Freiburg. A three week nightmare journey around the Czech countryside ensued. The prisoners were subjected to starvation and scarcely any water.
The train arrived at Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria on 29 April 1945. Eva’s mother had such a shock when she saw the name of the notorious Camp that she went into labour -and without any kind of medical aid Eva was born on an open cart.
The gas chamber at Mauthausen Concentration Camp was blown up on 28 April, the day before they entered it. Still it was three days after Eva’s birth that the American Army liberated Mauthausen Concentration Camp. The timing of their arrival ensured the survival of mother and daughter.
After the war, in February 1948 Eva and her mother returned to Prague, where Anna married Eva’s step-father. In the same year they emigrated to the United Kingdom. In 1968 Eva married an academic lawyer and today has two sons and continues to reside in Britain.
Fifteen members of Eva’s family were killed at Auschwitz: three of Eva’s grandparents, her father, uncles, aunts and her seven-year-old cousin Peter.