A survivor's tale just right for Pesach
Annabel Karmel’s kitchen helper
The Baby Born in a Concentration Camp
To misquote Tolstoy, most tales of families murdered in the Holocaust are depressingly similar, but each story of survival is miraculous in its own way. To live through the most well organised mass murder in history usually took a triumph of the human spirit and a fair degree of luck.
Anka Bergman had both of these things. But if matters were not desperate enough for her already, she also had to cope with being pregnant and giving birth twice during the Holocaust - once at Theresienstadt and once at Mauthausen. Her second baby, Eva, somehow survived and both women recounted this most amazing of stories.
Producer Emily Davis did not need flashy camerawork or portentous music - and thankfully there was none, just the accounts of Anka and Eva, who now live in Cambridge. Anka was a pretty young woman, newly married to her husband Berndt in Prague, when the Nazi invaded in 1939. In 1942, the couple were sent to the Theresienstadt where, despite the harsh conditions, they managed to survive for nearly three years.
I never doubted I was coming home
They lived in separate barracks but saw enough of each other for Anka to become pregnant. She survived the pregnancy and the birth, but her child died from pneumonia after two months. Anka became pregnant a second time. Before the baby was born, Berndt was informed that he would be transported to a camp called Auschwitz. Anka had never heard of it but volunteered to go there so that she could be with him.
She arrived at a place that she described as "like Dante's Inferno" but 10 days later she was on another train, unlike her husband who died in the camp. She was transported to Germany to work in the factory making the infamous doodlebug flying bombs. However, her pregnancy was becoming more and more apparent. In April 1945, as the Allies advanced, she was deported to her second death camp - Mauthausen. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, she remained convinced that she would survive. "I knew I was coming home, I never doubted it," she said.
Her first sight of Mauthhausen was so traumatic she went into labour immediately. A fellow prisoner who also happened to be a doctor refused to help, but, another inmate turned out not just to be a doctor but an obstetrician and he cut the chord as Eva emerged into the world in the most unpromising way imaginable, weighing only 3lb.
Had the gas chambers been operating Anka and child would certainly have been murdered, but fearing the Allied advance, the Germans dismantled the chambers on April 28, the day before Anka's arrival.
Less than a week later, Mauthausen was liberated and Anka and her baby returned to Prague where, by another stroke of fortune, she found living relatives able to care for them. This was a simply told and uplifting story, wonderfully appropriate at a time when we celebrate the re-birth of the Jewish nation.
JC recipe writer Annabel Karmel has written a huge number of bestselling books for families and children and has her own range of ready meals. Her quest for world domination has now entered a new phase with a Children's ITV cooking show. Accompanied by two talking penguins, Karmel shows children (and more to the point their parents) how to produce tasty treats designed for little ones. In the show I saw there was a snake cunningly constructed from bagels and that most unusual of things, a kosher pig (it was made from watermelon).
Over at CBeebies Big Cook Little Cook must be quaking in their boots.