I was born in a Nazi death camp weighing 3lb, my mother was at Auschwitz while pregnant but escaped the gas chambers

BORN in a notorious Nazi death camp weighing just 3lb, Eva Clarke's life began in the most difficult of circumstances.

Now 75 and living in Cambridge, the grandmother-of-four says she only survived the Holocaust because the gas chambers at Mauthausen had run out of fuel the day before her birth.

Eva's mother, Anka Kaudrová, was even imprisoned at Auschwitz-Birkenau during her pregnancy, having volunteered to follow her husband, Bernd Nathan, there.

Tragically, the pair never met again and Bernd didn't even know his wife was pregnant when he was shot dead near Auschwitz, nine days before the camp was liberated.

Speaking to Fabulous to mark Holocaust Memorial Day today, Eva revealed how her mother was sent to Mauthausen death camp in April 1945, then already heavily pregnant.

Eva, who has two children with husband Malcolm Clarke, a retired law professor, says: "The journey there was a complete nightmare.

"The Germans realised they were losing the war, so began to empty all the camps of living witnesses.

"My mother was put on a coal train open to the skies for 17 days – with no food, hardly any water and 2,000 other women.

"After the war when similar trains were opened up, they just had piles of corpses in them.

"The train eventually arrived in one of the last concentration camps to be liberated, Mauthausen, which is in Austria near Linz.

"When my mother saw the name of the station, she had such a shock it provoked the early onset of labour, so she started to give birth to me.

When my mother saw the name of the station at Mauthausen, she had such a shock it provoked the early onset of labour, so she started to give birth to me

"She had heard about this notorious place very early on in the war.

"My mother had to climb unaided onto a cart to be pulled up the very steep hill to the camp by other prisoners.

"She proceeded to give birth to me, with people who had typhus and typhoid fever lying all over her.

"One Nazi officer saw what was happening and sneered ‘you can carry on screaming’.

"She always said she was screaming not only because she was in labour, but because she thought she was about to die. But miraculously, we both survived."

In the six months before giving birth, Anka had been working in a slave labour camp and armaments factory in Freiberg, near Dresden.

She arrived at Mauthausen half-starved and weighing just five stone. Eva, meanwhile, was born not breathing or moving.

Eva says: "Incredibly the Germans allowed a doctor to come to my mother, who was also a prisoner. He cut the umbilical cord and smacked me to make me breathe.

"There are three reasons why we survived, the first is a very chilling one.

"On April 28, 1945, the Germans had run out of gas for the chambers. My birthday is 29.

"If she had arrived two days earlier, presumably my mother would have been sent straight to the gas chambers, as she was noticeably pregnant.

"The second indirect reason is because on April 30, Hitler committed suicide. And the best reason is because on May 5, the American army liberated the camp.

"My mother reckons she wouldn’t have lasted much longer.

"They think I weighed just 3lb, if I was born nowadays I would be put straight in an incubator. But my mother had nothing, all she could do was hold me.

"She was wearing the same clothes she had been wearing for six months, she was on a starvation diet.

"She was 28 but she was strong and above all, she was optimistic.

"She always thought she would survive, regardless of all the deaths she saw around her."

It's thought at least 122,000 people died in Mauthausen – a camp with such a horrific reputation the SS called it "the bone grinder".

Prisoners died daily climbing the Stairs of Death, a steep 186-step climb while loaded with 50kg of weight on their backs.

Those who survived were placed in a terrifying line-up at the edge of a cliff called The Parachutists Wall – where men were faced with the option of being shot or pushing the prisoner in front of them.

Luckily for Anka and Eva, their spell at the deadly camp was brief.

Life before Mauthausen

Eva's dad Bernd was originally from Hamburg but fled Germany for Prague when Hitler came into power in 1933.

It was there he met Anka, who he married on May 15, 1940, already living under Nazi occupation and the racist Nuremberg Laws.

In December 1941, the couple were sent to Terezin, a ghetto and work camp with around 2,900 occupants in what is now the Czech Republic.

Eva says: "On the whole it was a transit camp before people were sent to the death camps – the old, sick, mothers with children, pregnant women, the mentally and physically disabled.

"But because my parents were young, strong and capable of work, they remained in Terezin for three years, which was very unusual, my mother always said luck had a lot to do with it.

"Terezin was dreadful. Not long after they arrived, the whole camp was marched outside to witness some young men being hanged, just because they’d sent letters home.

There are three reasons we survived. The first is because the Nazis had run out of gas for the chambers the day before we arrived

"At that point my parents realised this was a very dangerous place.

"Food was scarce but mother worked for the man who shared it out, which meant she could steal a potato, carrot or onion to feed her family.

"Every single day, she was trying to find food for 15 people, that was her main worry.

"My father was an architect so he had been sent to help 'set up the place' and later worked as a Jewish policeman."

With prisoners sleeping 20 to a bunk, in different quarters for men, women, children and the elderly, Eva's parents "lived separate lives" for most of those three years.

But they did manage to sneak quiet moments together, conceiving two children while living at Terezin.

Eva says: "They did meet up because my brother was conceived and I was conceived, which was very dangerous and against all the rules, as the Nazis were trying to annihilate every single member of the Jewish people.

"My mother told me 'we got together whenever we could and to hell with the consequences'.

"In 1943, she discovered she was pregnant for the first time.

"The Nazis found out and made my mother and four other women, who were also pregnant, sign a document saying when the babies were born, they would have to be handed over to be killed.

My brother was conceived and I was conceived, which was very dangerous. My mother told me 'we got together whenever we could and to hell with the consequences'

"My mother didn't even know what it meant, because they used the word euthanasia, which she'd never heard of. And this was no mercy killing, this would have been murder.

"We don’t know what happened to the other four babies, we assume they all perished in Auschwitz.

"My brother George was born in February 1944. For some unknown reason he wasn’t taken away from my parents, but he died two months later of pneumonia.

"His death saved my life and my mother’s life, because if my mother had arrived in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp holding my brother in her arms, she would have been sent straight to the gas chambers.

"Although she was pregnant with me when she did arrive, it didn’t show because she was only two months’ pregnant."

Eva's father was sent to Auschwitz in September 1944 and her mother volunteered to follow him there the next day.

Eva says: "She had no idea where he was being sent. She thought nothing could get any worse than Terezin.

"Nobody knew what Auschwitz was. If they did hear rumours, they were so bizarre they didn’t believe them.

"If she had known what was ahead, I don't think she would have gone.

"She never, ever saw my father again. He didn't even know my mother was pregnant."

Anka spent just 10 days at Auschwitz, but described it as "hell on Earth".

Eva adds: "It was like Dante's inferno, you can't even imagine it. She said there was no point in speculating what was going to happen to you, you lived minute to minute.

"There were appel (role call) registrations every day at 4am and 6pm. You could be standing there for hours on end, regardless of the weather.

"My mother fainted several times during these appels, which could have been very bad news for her, but she was always held up by her friends on either side, which meant she hadn’t drawn attention to herself in front of the Nazis.

"At one of these selections, Dr Josef Mengele was presiding, she only found out it was him after the war but she remembered him distinctly.

"She remembered him saying ‘this time we have very good material’, not people, they were just units of slave labour. It was after that she was sent out of Auschwitz to a slave labour camp in Germany.

"She was there for six months, becoming more and more starved andobviously pregnant, which was very dangerous for her.

"But fortunately the Germans only realised she was pregnant after Auschwitz had been liberated.

"We know of pregnant women who were sent back to Auschwitz and Mengele took the most unspeakable revenge on them."

Rape, forced abortion and infanticide were all common parts of the Angel of Death's now infamous 'experiments' on pregnant women, according to witness accounts.

Eva is one of just three babies to survive Mauthausen during its seven years as a concentration camp.

They were all born in the days before the liberation, to mothers who were brought in on the same coal wagons, and met for the first time aged 70.

Their story is told in Wendy Holden's book Born Survivors.

Hana Berger Moran was born on April 12, on a plank in the factory of the Freiberg camp.

Mark Olsky was born on April 20, on the coal wagons, and his mother cut through her own umbilical cord with a rusty razor blade.

Eva says: "We’re all known as miracle babies because we’re physically and mentally normal, I think the chances are much greater we would have come out handicapped.

"None of the fathers survived but all three mothers and babies did.

"My father was shot dead near Auschwitz on January 18, 1945, the camp was liberated on January 27."

After the war, Anka was repatriated to Prague, where two of her cousins had survived.

Eva's paternal grandfather also survived the Holocaust, having remained in Terezin throughout the war.

The remaining 15 members of her family all died in Auschwitz, including her seven-year-old cousin Peter.

Eva says: "A lot of survivors committed suicide because they could just not face life without their family and friends.

"But my mother lived with one of her cousins for three years, that was fantastic because she had a support group."

Anka eventually married Karel Bergman and they moved to Cardiff for his work in 1948.

Eva says: "I considered my step-father my Daddy, I never knew anybody else and we had a very happy family life.

"By the time I was five or six, my mother started telling me snippets about the war, interspersed with ordinary family stories, because I was always asking questions about her life.

"My mother lived until she was 96, she was very proud she was a great-grandmother of three.

"She didn't want to be remembered purely as a Holocaust survivor, she would say she was a wife, a mother, a grandmother. She even met The Queen, which she was delighted about.

"I'm very glad she never needed counselling but in the last couple of months of her life, she started having nightmares about what had happened, which I thought was so unjust.

"Now tell my story to help the six million people who lost their lives be remembered.

"The survivors are a dwindling group nowadays and everyone can identify with one family's story, no-one can identify with six million.

"I want people to learn the lessons of the Holocaust, and to try to counteract any form of racism and prejudice."

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