Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope
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The Nazis murdered their husbands but concentration camp prisoners Priska, Rachel, and Anka would not let evil take their unborn children too—a remarkable true story that will appeal to readers of The Lost and The Nazi Officer’s Wife, Born Survivors celebrates three mothers who defied death to give their children life.
Eastern Europe, 1944: Three women believe they are pregnant, but are torn from their husbands before they can be certain. Rachel is sent to Auschwitz, unaware that her husband has been shot. Priska and her husband travel there together, but are immediately separated. Also at Auschwitz, Anka hopes in vain to be reunited with her husband. With the rest of their families gassed, these young wives are determined to hold on to all they have left—their lives, and those of their unborn babies. Having concealed their condition from infamous Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, they are forced to work and almost starved to death, living in daily fear of their pregnancies being detected by the SS.
In April 1945, as the Allies close in, Priska gives birth. She and her baby, along with Anka, Rachel, and the remaining inmates, are sent to Mauthausen concentration camp on a hellish seventeen-day train journey. Rachel gives birth on the train, and Anka at the camp gates. All believe they will die, but then a miracle occurs. The gas chamber runs out of Zyklon-B, and as the Allied troops near, the SS flee. Against all odds, the three mothers and their newborns survive their treacherous journey to freedom.
On the seventieth anniversary of Mauthausen’s liberation from the Nazis by American soldiers, renowned biographer Wendy Holden recounts this extraordinary story of three children united by their mothers’ unbelievable—yet ultimately successful—fight for survival.
factories, but either way they would have to start again and try to make a new life for themselves. Anka, with little Eva, had nowhere to go but back to Czechoslovakia, but she was in ‘a daze’ because she had no idea what she would find. ‘I knew that my parents and my sisters were not alive – that was a matter of deduction – but I still didn’t know about my husband Bernd.’ Would anything be left for them in Třebechovice pod Orebem? Would her father’s leather factory and her sister Ruzena’s villa
surprised people. Whenever she was asked why she had them she said, ‘Because I’m still trying to find out why.’ She also studied the lists of those killed at Terezín and Auschwitz, running her finger down the pages to see how and when those she’d known had lived and died. After the end of Communist rule in 1989, Anka was finally handed back ownership of the family factory in Třebechovice. ‘I sold it immediately – and very badly – because I didn’t know the first thing about running a factory, and
realised they might have been better off if they’d stood closer to the slit of a window threaded with barbed wire. By the time the train shuddered to a stop in Auschwitz, the children were crying and the elders praying. Breathing shallowly, pressed together in the crushing darkness, they heard the metal clasps unlocked and then the doors slid open on their rollers with a bang, letting in a welcome blast of air. Spilling out of the wagon into dazzling searchlights, they were met with an
Bauhaus-style villa on the plot, where they lived happily for many years with their infant son Peter. An avid reader, Anka would slip away into the family garden to devour her favourite Latin books and the classics, which she read in various languages. She shared her passion for reading with her brother Tonda, who was kind to his little sister and took her everywhere with him, especially to the football matches he was such a fan of and always returned from hoarse. ‘We had a marvellous
France. On 28 May, Belgium surrendered. On 10 June, Norway followed suit and Italy declared war on Britain and France. Almost a month to the day after they took their vows, Paris fell. Then began what they dreaded most of all – resettlement transports. SS Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann set himself up in a requisitioned Jewish house in Prague to oversee the Central Office for Jewish Emigration. He demanded multiple transportations (to the Dachau concentration camp) by 1940 and if the