Local Holocaust survivor, Eva Clarke BEM, visited St Mary’s School, Cambridge on 7 January to share the incredible story of survival of both her and her mother during the Second World War, and to talk about the 15 members of her family, from three grandparents to a seven-year-old cousin, who were killed during the Holocaust. Speaking to Sixth Formers as part of their Philosophy, Ethics and Religion (PER) lessons, she told the girls about her parents, and in particular her mother’s resilience and optimism in the face of immense cruelty and hardship.
Her father, Bernd Nathan, had left Hamburg for Prague when Hitler came to power, and it was there that he met and married her mother, Anka Kauderová. During the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, in December 1941 the couple were first sent to the ghetto and concentration camp of Terezín (Theresienstadt). Three years later they were sent to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp (incredibly Anka volunteered to follow her husband there) and finally Anka was sent on to the Mauthausen concentration camp. Anka gave birth to Eva on arrival at Mauthausen on 29 April 1945, having survived a nightmarish 17-day journey on a coal wagon without food and little water. By this time Anka weighed around 5 stone, whilst Eva was born weighing around 3 pounds. Luckily, the Americans liberated Mauthausen just days after Eva’s birth, enabling both mother and daughter to survive. Anka’s husband Bernd had tragically been shot on 18 January 1945 while on a death march, less than a week before the liberation by the Red Army.
The students at St Mary’s were very moved by Eva’s story, and inspired by her mother’s strength during the horrors that she faced. Following on from Eva’s presentation, students were keen to ask Eva more questions about her mother’s wartime experiences and indeed about Eva’s life after the war, during which time she and her mother moved firstly back to Prague where they stayed for three years with a surviving relative, before emigrating to Cardiff with Eva’s stepfather.
Daniel Bennett, Head of Religious Studies at St Mary’s School, Cambridge, said: “It is incredibly important to hear these oral histories and we are very grateful to Mrs Clarke for sharing her story with us. It was a very thought-provoking and moving experience for our girls.”
Eva commented: "I tell my story for several reasons. The first is for commemoration, and indeed this year will mark 75 years since the end of the war. The second is to remember all those people who died, whose families and communities were destroyed, so that they can live on in our memories. Lastly, it is to counter any form of racism or prejudice which is sadly still pervasive today."