Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Life and death: A time to remember

Anka Bergman married her husband Bernd in her native Czechoslovakia in 1940.

In 1941 they were both sent to the concentration camp at Theresienstadt. The sexes were segregated, but they managed to meet, and Anka fell pregnant. When her pregnancy was discovered, she was forced to sign a paper agreeing to hand over the baby to the Gestapo when it was born so the baby could be killed.

She gave birth to a son, George. Surprisingly, he wasn't handed over, but died of pneumonia when he was two months old.

Bernd was sent to Auschwitz in 1944. By this time, Anka was pregnant again. She volunteered to go to Auschwitz the day after her husband was moved. She never saw him again. He was shot dead in Auschwitz a week before the camp was liberated by the Red Army.

On her arrival in Auschwitz, her pregnancy was not discovered and she was selected to live by Josef Mengele. Her son George's death saved her life. If she had had her baby, she would have gone straight to the gas chambers.

After 10 days of "hell on earth," she was transported to work in a munitions factory in Germany. After her pregnancy became obvious, she was transported with others for three weeks without food in an open coal truck to the death camp at Mauthausen. When she saw the name, she went into labour.

Anka gave birth to her daughter Eva in a cart filled with people suffering from typhoid. She weighed five stones; her baby weighed about three pounds. Her baby was wrapped in newspaper to try to keep her warm.

She survived for two reasons: the Germans had stopped gassing people and blown up the gas chamber the previous day, and the camp was liberated by the American Army a week later. Strangely, Anka had always believed she would survive the Holocaust.

When she returned to Prague, 15 members of her family had perished. She was taken in by a surviving cousin. After the war, Anka came to Britain with her daughter.

She died last July, aged 96, leaving a daughter, grandchildren and great grandchildren. 

● Yesterday/today (Monday evening to Tuesday evening) is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

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