The baby born on the Nazi camp train

Two survivors of Austria’s Mauthausen death camp were reunited last weekend


Inmates of Mauthausen camp welcome the US Army on May 6 1945

Inmates of Mauthausen camp welcome the US Army on May 6 1945

Helga Weissova-Hoskova, a survivor from Prague, was recalling one of the Nazis' last acts. In April 1945, aged 14, she was being shunted on a train with several hundred women to the death camp of Mauthausen in Austria.

One woman tried to hide the child that had been born just before she boarded. Four others were close to giving birth. All knew that arriving in a camp with a baby almost certainly meant death.

But as Mrs Weissova-Hoskova retold those events in London's Wigmore Hall on Saturday, there was an interruption from the audience. A woman sprang out of her seat and announced, to
the astonishment of all, "I was one of those babies."

Eva Clarke, 65, from Cambridge, was born on April 29, just after the train reached its destination. Her mother, Anna Bergman, is today 93 years old, and lives in Cardiff. "It was just stunning," Mrs Clarke said after her revelation. "It really was a moment."

Her father was killed just a week before the liberation

Mrs Weissova-Hoskova said: "It was a surprise for all of us. I didn't know she was alive."

The two women had come for a commemoration, sponsored by the JC and organised by the Nash Ensemble, of the remarkable music and art of the Theresienstadt concentration camp. They had never met before.

Mrs Weissova-Hoskova, now a celebrated artist aged 80, entered Theresienstadt when she was 12 years old and drew her experiences while she was there. She was one of fewer than 100 children, out of 15,000, who went there and survived.

"There were two reasons why we survived," said Mrs Clarke. "The Germans had blown up the gas chambers at Mauthausen the day before, trying to conceal the evidence. And, three days after my birth, the American army liberated the camp."

Her parents, Anna and Bernd Bergman, were deported from Prague in 1941 and spent three years in Theresienstadt. Although the sexes were segregated, they had a son there, George, who died of pneumonia after only two months.

When her husband was sent to Auschwitz, Mrs Bergman volunteered to follow him. "Being the eternal optimist, she thought after having survived for three years, things couldn't get worse," Mrs Clarke said.

But after ten days, Mrs Bergman was sent to the slave labour camp in Freiburg, near Dresden. She never saw her husband again - he was killed a week before liberation - and he never knew she was pregnant again.

In Freiburg, Mrs Bergman took heart from the Allied bombing raids on Dresden - in fact, the RAF crews included Eva's future father-in-law, whose bombs could have "easily killed her".

After around six months, she was moved again. "The train consisted not of cattle-trucks, but open-air coaltrucks," Mrs Clarke said. "Conditions were filthy. She was on the train for three solid weeks. During the nightmare of the journey, the train was stopped in the middle of the countryside and the dead bodies thrown out."

Her mother, now nine months' pregnant, weighed just five stone. A passing farmer was so appalled by what he saw that he brought her a glass of milk.

"There was a Nazi officer standing next to her and he had a whip, and he raised his whip to shoulder height as if to beat my mother if she accepted the glass of milk - but he didn't," Mrs Clarke said. "He just lowered his arm and didn't say anything. He let her have the milk. She wondered if that saved her life."

But when her mother saw the name Mauthausen at the station, "she was so shocked she thinks that provoked her labour. She had to climb off the train onto a cart because some of the prisoners were not strong enough to walk up the hill, and she proceeded to give birth to me. A Nazi officer saw she was in labour and said to her, 'Carry
on screaming.'

"She was screaming because she thought it was her very last minute on this earth. I didn't move, I didn't breathe. Incredibly, the Germans allowed a doctor - who was also a prisoner - to come to my mother. He cut the umbilical cord and smacked me to make me cry.

"But no doctor has been able to explain how, when I was born, my mother had milk. Three weeks later when we came back to Prague, that milk had disappeared."

Mrs Clarke now speaks regularly about the Holocaust in schools. Two of the other train babies survived and now live in the United States. The three made contact earlier this year and attended the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Mauthausen.

She reflected: "My mother says if I were not the living proof, she would begin to doubt it herself."

Last updated: 3:33pm, June 24 2010