Shared love of Shakespeare may prompted Nazi guard to help young Jewish woman

Eva Rocek's little-known story of survival is in a new anthology of stories about the Bard


A shared love of Shakespeare may have prompted a Nazi guard to sympathise with a young Jewish woman he helped escape, the author of a new anthology about the Bard has revealed.

Allie Esiri said she stumbled across the little-known story of unlikely survival while researching her book, Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year.

Eva Rocek, a young Czech-born woman, had made a habit of reciting poetry while being forced to dig graves in a Nazi labour camp in 1944.

She was usually ignored – until she recited Titania’s lines from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, prompting a guard to engage her in conversation, in which he addressed her with the polite form of “you” in German.

“He seemed to be listening to my recitations,” Eva later wrote in her memoir.

The officer, known to her only as ‘Suchy’, helped her and her mother to escape the labour camp to which they had been sent from Auschwitz, where Eva’s father had died.

Ms Esiri told the JC: “As part of my research, I found a podcast by the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC, who interviewed [Eva]. She talked about what happened. She could not know for sure, but she believed it was Shakespeare that jolted the guard’s humanity.

“I have never seen or read a more powerful example of Shakespeare’s work. So many people ask, including my own children, why we still learn Shakespeare. It’s because he just speaks to everyone at every age.”

After the Holocaust, Eva was reunited with her boyfriend and future husband, Jan – and the couple later moved to the United States.

Jan, now 95, said: “Shakespeare was a very important part of her life. I loved hearing her recite it."

Eva, who became a professor of chemistry at the University of Illinois, died in 2015 aged 88.

Shakespeare for Every Day of the Year was published by Pan Macmillan at the end of last year.

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