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Home / Latest News / A holocaust survivor born in a concentration camp remembers her Welsh upbringing

A holocaust survivor born in a concentration camp remembers her Welsh upbringing

A holocaust survivor who grew up in Wales has recounted her family’s incredible story as she prepares to revisit the site of the concentration camp where she was born.

In 1948, a then three-year-old Eva Clarke stepped off a train in Cardiff with her mother Anna Bergman after travelling across Europe from Czechoslovakia.

They arrived hoping to build a new life in an unfamiliar country, joining Anna’s husband Karel who had secured work managing a textile factory in Treforest, near Pontypridd.

Speaking to WalesOnline, Eva said: “It was dark and I had a fever and it was pouring with rain.

“My mother says she got out of the platform at Cardiff Station and knew she was going to be happy.”

Eva went onto study at Rhydypenau Primary School and Our Lady’s Convent School in the Welsh capital – formative years which she says formed part of a “very happy childhood”.

But growing up an inquisitive Eva would later discover it was a world away from the traumatic experiences her mother had endured just years previously.

Anna came from a village near Prague and studied law at university before marrying architect Bernd Nathan in May 1940 – a year after Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia and began imposing limitations on Jews.

In December 1941, Anna was sent to Terezin, a ghetto 35 miles from Prague, where she was separated from her husband for three years.

During that time, she fell pregnant and was forced to sign a document stating that when her baby was born, it would be killed by the Gestapo.

In the event that didn’t happen – her son Dan died of pneumonia at the age of two months.

Then in September 1944 all of Anna’s relations including her husband were sent to Auschwitz and, in the early stages of pregnancy again, she followed him.

But the Nazis deemed Anna fit enough to work and she was sent to a munitions factory in Freiberg, near Dresden, before then being forced onto an open coal train that took her to the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria.

Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria
Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria


Anna, who was not fed or watered for three weeks, was nine-months pregnant and weighing just five stone.

She gave birth to Eva, who weighed just 3lb, surrounded by 20 women dying of typhoid with lice crawling around in their thousands before wrapping the tiny baby in newspaper to try and keep her warm.

Eva said that she learnt of her mother’s ordeal “very early on” when growing up in Cardiff.

“I was always asking mother when I was growing up about her hobbies, pets, sports and friends and about members of the family,” Eva said.

“She would tell me quite instinctively in little snippets about those war-time stories

“I always liken it to adoption. If children are adopted if they always know that they are adopted it doesn’t come as much of a shock as if they were teenagers.

“Similarly I always knew something. In one sense, I have always known about it.”

Eva says two things kept her mother and her alive: the Americans’ liberation of the camp just three days later and the fact she was born the day after the Germans blew up the camp’s gas chamber in a bid to conceal evidence from the advancing allies.

Eva said: “It was sheer chance and luck I was born when I was, on April 29, 1945.

“If my mother had arrived there the day before I wouldn’t be talking to you now.

“On April 28, the Germans had blown up the gas chamber and the other reason we survived is the Americans liberated the camp.

“It’s incredible. No-one can quite believe it. She gave birth and we both survived and I’m healthy and normal and not mentally or physically disabled. It’s all quite remarkable.

“When I was born the Germans allowed a doctor to come to my mother – he was also a prisoner – he cut the umbilical cord and smacked me to make me cry.

“What my mum does say is nobody knows what they can withstand until they have to.

“She could never have predicted she would get through all of that, but she did.”

Anna later returned with Eva to Prague to find out what had happened to their family.

Her husband Bernd had been shot a week before the liberation of Auschwitz and her father died of pneumonia.

The rest of the family had been executed in the gas chambers.

It was after the war that Anna took Eva to live with one of her cousins until February 1948, when she married Karel Bergman.

He adopted Eva and seven months later the family met up in Cardiff.

“The very first words that my mother told me, were when she said, ‘you have heard about the war’.

“She said, ‘you had two daddies and one was killed in the war’, because I was always asking questions.”

The family lived in an apartment in Cathedral Road in the centre of Cardiff before moving to a house in the Cyncoed area and Eva says it was in those years her mother managed to catch up with the “frivolous parts of life”.

One of her great passions was visiting the cinema.

“She used to go regularly when I was safely in school trying to learn English,” Eva said.

“As soon as possible, she used to be in the cinema every day and found a fantastic light relief after her war-time experiences.”

It came in stark contrast to a nerve-shredding experience Anna went through back in Czechoslovakia during Nazi occupation when she decided to attend a film prohibited for Jews.

During the interval, the SS arrived and asked people to show their identity cards.

With Anna holding her Jewish card and unable to move for fear, they thankfully left before they reached her row.

This year marks the 20th anniversary of one of the films that resonates most with Anna – Schindler’s List.

The true story of Oskar Schindler – a member of the Nazi Party who risked his life to save 1,200 Jews – which was adapted from a book by Thomas Keneally remains a cinematic triumph.

And Eva and Anna sat down to watch the film again recently.

She said: “We watched the film again and found it just as moving as 20 years ago.

“We both found it so emotional and so powerful because we remember it so well.”

In 1983, Karel sadly passed away but Anna lived in Cardiff until 2010 – when she moved in with Eva at her home in Cambridge.

Anna turned 96 last week.

Meanwhile Eva will be visiting Mauthausen in just over a week after an invitation extended to the Austrian government to around 20 survivors who are able to travel for the opening of a new exhibition.

It is not the first time she has returned to her birthplace – three years ago she attended for the 65th anniversary of the camp’s liberation.

On that occasion Eva met with American veterans and two other survivors that, like her, were born there.

Now, although retired, Eva often gives talks about her family’s experience, the majority of which are given for the Holocaust Educational Trust (HET).

And her work often brings her back to South Wales.

She said: “This is my retirement job but I have never been so busy in my life.

“I always like to go to Cardiff and South Wales. I don’t know but I hope that, being somebody local, perhaps it makes the story that much more relevant to local schoolchildren.

“I do think it’s my duty to inform young people what happened because they do study it in school and through telling one family’s story we hope it brings history alive.”

And against the odds her mother faced, Eva, 67, whose husband is from Abergavenny, now has a growing family of her own.

“We have two sons and they have three children between them,” she said.

 “My mother really can’t believe that, after everything she went through, she’s a great-grandmother.”

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