Eva Nathan Clarke was born in the Mauthausen concentration camp on April 29, 1945, the day that her mother, Anka Nathan Bergman, arrived as a prisoner on a train from a labor camp in Freiberg, near Dresden, Germany. Her father, Bernd Nathan, had been shot in Auschwitz on January 18, 1945, the same day that 60,000 prisoners were marched out of the camp and taken to camps in Germany and Austria. Eva now lives in Cambridge, England and works for the Holocaust Educational Trust. She tells her story to students in order to remember and commemorate all those who died, but also to teach the lessons of the Holocaust.
You can see Eva on this YouTube video:
Eva and her mother, Anka Bergman, who is now in her 90s, are the only members of their family that survived the Holocaust; 15 family members were killed in Auschwitz, including 3 of Eva’s grandparents, her father, uncles, aunts, and her 7 year old cousin, Peter.
In her talks to students, Eva says that there are two reasons why she and her mother survived – apart from her mother’s inherent toughness. “The first is that on the 28th April 1945 the Germans blew up the gas chamber at Mauthausen – this they were doing everywhere to try to conceal the evidence. My birthday was the 29th. The second reason is that three days after my birth the American Army liberated the camp.” (Actually, Mauthausen was liberated on May 5, 1945, which was 6 days after Eva was born.)
When Hitler was appointed the Chancellor of Germany in 1933, Eva’s father, Bernd Nathan, left Hamburg and went to Prague, Czechoslovakia; there he met Anka, who was a law student, and they were married on May 15, 1940. In December 1941, the Nathans were sent to the Theresienstadt (Terezin) ghetto in what is now the Czech Republic.
In the Theresienstadt ghetto, the men and women were housed in separate barracks, but nevertheless Anka became pregnant with her first child. According to Eva, when the Nazis discovered the pregnancy, her parents were forced to sign a document stating that when the baby was born, it would be handed over to the Gestapo – to be killed! This was the first time her mother had heard the word “euthanasia.” However, for some reason, Eva’s baby brother was allowed to live and he died of pneumonia when he was two months old. And his death meant Eva’s life! According to Eva, if her mother had subsequently arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau with a baby, she would have been sent immediately to the gas chambers.
Anka was pregnant again when she arrived in Auschwitz-Birkenau on October 1, 1944, but she was able to hide her 3-month pregnancy during the selection process. Anka had volunteered to go to Auschwitz after her husband was selected to go there in August 1944. She and her husband never met in Auschwitz, so Eva’s father never knew about her mother’s second pregnancy. On October 10, 1944, Anka was sent to Freiberg to work in an armaments factory; she was forced to work for 6 months, even after it became obvious that she was pregnant.
Starting in March 1945, the Germans began evacuating all the sub-camps and transferring the prisoners to one of the main concentration camps. On April 14, 1945 the women at Freiberg were put on a train, but not in the usual cattle cars; they were forced to ride in open coal cars which were filthy. They weren’t given any food and scarcely any water during what became a 3-week nightmare journey. The train tracks had been bombed by Allied planes and they could not get to Dachau or any other camp in Germany, where they could be surrendered to American troops. Finally, on April 29th, the train arrived at the station in the town of Mauthausen which is several miles from the concentration camp
Eva told Steve Riches in an interview: “My mother started to give birth to me on the train, and then she had to climb off it and onto a cart – the people who were not strong enough to walk to the camp were bundled into this cart and she was lying there with people all over her who had typhoid and other horrendous illnesses. She was unable to move and she gave birth to me there. I didn’t breathe when I was born, and I didn’t move. When they arrived at the camp they found a doctor who was also a prisoner – he cut the umbilical cord, smacked me, and I began to breathe.”
According to the Holocaust Educational Trust web site: “By this stage, Eva’s mother weighed about 5 stone/ 35 kg – she had the appearance of a scarcely living pregnant skeleton. And Eva weighed about 3lbs/ 1.5 kg! If the gas chambers hadn’t been blown up on 28th April 1945 and the American Army hadn’t liberated Mauthausen three days after Eva’s birth, neither mother or child would have survived.”
Source: the web site of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Eva Clarke told me in an e-mail today that she is planning to attend the anniversary celebration of the liberation of Mauthausen on Sunday May 9th. After she was born on a cart outside the Mauthausen camp, Eva wrote that she and her mother were put into the Krankenrevier which was a camp for sick prisoners at the bottom of a hill near the entrance to the Mauthausen camp. This was built as a camp for Russian POWs, but it became a “sick camp” in 1943. The camp has since been torn down.
The location of the former “sick camp” at Mauthausen is shown on the right in the photo above. On the left, you can see a car driving on the last part of the steep winding road up to the concentration camp. To the right of the road are mass graves of the prisoners who died at Mauthausen just before the camp was liberated.
You can see a nice photo of Eva and her mother on her blog here.