Brother's death saved my life says Holocaust survivor

By Connie Osborne Tuesday 28 January 2014 Updated: 30/01 16:28

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Buy photos » Eva Clarke pays her respects at the Holocaust marker at Church Green.

UNDER normal circumstances to lose someone is never something to be thankful for.

But for Eva Clarke, one of the youngest Holocaust survivors, it literally meant the difference between life and death.

Her mother Anka Bergman was pregnant with Eva during her short but horrific time at the notorious Auschwitz–Birkenau death camp where thousands faced the end of their lives in gas chambers.

The pair's story should have ended there, but in a strange twist of fate it was just the beginning.

"I had a brother called George who was born in February 1944 but he died of pneumonia at two-months-old. I still believe to this day my brother's death meant my life," she said.

"Had my mother arrived at Auschwitz holding my brother in her arms she would have been sent straight to the gas chambers.

"But because she arrived not holding a baby, and the Nazis' didn't know she was pregnant, as you could not visibly tell, she would live to see another day, and so would I."

The fact they both survived is a miracle. Eva weighed just 3lb when she was born on that fateful day as her mother arrived at Mauthausen, in Austria, after a three week train journey from an armaments factory in Freiberg with no shelter, no food and barely any water.

"She used to describe herself as looking like a scarcely living pregnant skeleton. She weighed five stone when she was nine months pregnant", said Eva.

When the train finally stopped and Anka saw the name of the notorious camp which she had heard may horror stories about since the start of the war, she immediately went into labour.

"She started to give birth on the train and had to climb off it unaided. She climbed on to a cart because the prisoners who were not strong enough to walk to the camp had to get onto the cart pulled on by others.

"She had people lying all over her, people with typhoid, who were filthy and ill, and she proceeded to give birth.

"My mother said she thought she wasn't only screaming because she was in child labour, but because she thought that was her very last minute on earth."

In another twist of fate Eva was born on April 29, 1945 - just one day after the gas chambers at the camp were blown up as Allied forces closed in.

Three days later American troops arrived and liberated the camp offering food and medicine.

The pair returned to Prague, where her mother was originally from, and they stayed with Eva's aunt for three years before her mother re-married and they all moved to South Wales.

In total they lost 15 members of their family in Auschwitz - three of Eva’s grandparents, uncles, aunts and her seven-year-old cousin Peter.

Her father Berndt had been shot dead at the camp on January 18, 1945, about a week before the liberation by the Russian army and before he could know about Anka's pregnancy.

He left Hamburg for Prague in 1933, where he eventually met her mother and they married on May 15, 1940.

In December 1941 her parents were sent to Theresienstadt in what is now the Czech Republic, where they were to remain for three years because they were young, strong and able to work.

But eventually Berndt was sent to Auschwitz and Anka incredibly volunteered to follow him the very next day. But she never saw him again.

Her mother endured Auschwitz pregnant and surviving off little or no food, before she was sent to Freiberg where she worked on an unmanned flying bomb.

In April 1945, when Auschwitz was already liberated and the Nazis began to try and get rid of all living witnesses and hide the horrors they had been responsible for, Anka was put on that coal train which led her to Mathuassen, the end of the war and the birth of Eva.

"My mother was inherently strong mentally and physically. I often think about what she actually went through," Eva said.

"But, you know, she always said 'nobody knows what they can withstand until they have to.' And fortunately, for most of us, that is not put to the test."

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