Baby born on the way to Mauthausen
Anka Bergman was 27 years old and weighed five stone when she gave birth to her daughter Eva on April 29, 1945.
She was on a train transporting her to Mauthausen, the third concentration camp she would be detained in, following spells in Auschwitz and Theresienstadt.
The labour pangs had begun when the camp came into view, the shock of seeing its infamous name enough to induce her.
As she lay giving birth on the coal truck, a mass of festering corpses beneath her, a Nazi officer called to her.
“You may carry on screaming.”
As Eva, now 67, tells this story to a hushed room of Year 9 students at St Benedict’s Catholic School in Bury St Edmunds on Friday morning, stark images of the camps and their victims are shown on the screen behind her.
It’s a talk she has already given five times this week as part of her work with the Holocaust Educational Trust, trying to teach a new generation the dangers of prejudice and the ever-present threat of genocide.
“We are all human and have good and bad in us, and we all have the potential to do terrible things. It’s something that we have to guard against,” she says.
She cites Darfur, Rwanda and pogroms in Poland as examples of where the lessons of the holocaust have not been learned.
Her mother’s time in Auschwitz-Birkenau began on October 1, 1944.
She had volunteered to go to the camp the day after her husband, a German Jew named Bernd Nathan who had moved to Prague in 1933, had been sent there from Theresienstadt.
Being considered fit enough to work, Anka only stayed in Auschwitz for 10 days, with the Nazis unaware that she was three months pregnant.
Although Eva believes the pregnancy gave her mother hope, if camp officers had discovered her secret, she would have been killed immediately.
As it was, she was shipped to work in an armaments factory in Freiburg.
Having survived the constant bombing raids at nearby Dresden, Anka was then moved to Mauthausen as Germany retreated from the advancing Allied troops.
She was liberated, along with Eva - one day old and weighing three pounds - on April 30.
In those five months she lost 14 members of her family, including a seven-year-old nephew, Peter.
The fate of her husband was a mystery to Anka until she ran into a friend upon returning to Prague. He told her that Bernd had been shot in Auschwitz by a German guard.
Although shocking, the news was a mercy to Anka, according to Eva.
“Some people never found out how their families died, even if they knew they were dead.
“I think hearing that actually gave her some closure,” she said.
Now 95 and living in Cambridge, Anka moved to England as Communist dictatorships swept Eastern Europe.
Her family now spans four generations, and plans to make a film of her story are afoot.
Eva says her mother fears the Hollywood treatment will taint her story.
“She’s worried that it will lose some of its authenticity and become fictionalised.
“But to me, it’s a story that has to be told to keep the message alive.”
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Friday 24 May 2013
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