DiePresse.com , May 9, 2015
German Original: http://diepresse.com/home/leben/mensch/4728046/Geboren-in-Mauthausen
In her book Wendy Holden talks about those destiny children who were born in Mauthausen. Three of them met yesterday, on Saturday, on the occasion of a commemoration.
“Are you pregnant pretty lady? “asked Dr. Josef Mengele in October 1944. Before him stands 28-year old Priska Löwenbeinova, shaking, naked, scared. “No”, she said through barely open lips while being assailed by nausea again. The SS – man with the shimmering skulls on the collar is contended with the answer and continues to walk the rows of emaciated newcomers in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp. Priska did not know that Josef Mengele, referred to as “Angel of Death”, was tasked by the Nazis to conduct genetic and other experiments on Jewish babies. The fact that she did not tell him the truth saved her life. Priska was two months pregnant at that time.
Her struggle for survival is one of three biographies described by Holden. The extraordinary stories of these Jewish women, who gave birth to their children under most adverse circumstances were introduced at Mauthausen Memorial yesterday, May 9, in the presence of Austrian Minister of the Interior Johanna Mikl-Leitner, as well as their 70-year old children, Hana Berger-Moran, Eva Clarke and Mark Olsky.
“Good morning pretty lady, are you pregnant?” Rachel Friedmann, too, heard this question in the fall of 1944. She was one of the last to be deported from the Ghetto in Lodz to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Once 200,000 people lived here behind barbed wire, controlled by the Nazis, less than 100 survived the war. Rachel did not know what to answer but did read the fear in the eyes of the other women. When Mengele grabbed her breasts with his leather gloves, pushing them together hard to see if milk would leak, she floundered “Never. No”. He looked at her skeptically, but walked on.
The Czech woman Anka Nathanova, too, was examined in this location, after being brought there over a ramp from the train. She knew how to hide a pregnancy because she had secretly given birth to a son in the Ghetto before. She pulled in her belly and held her hands over her breasts to protect them. When they deported her husband Bernd towards the East a few weeks earlier, she followed him. Shivering and naked she asked herself what devil possessed her to believe to be able to live a happy family life.
Like the other two women, she never saw her husband again; but more than ever they swore to pull their children through. They were all that was left from their marriages. “One needed just a little bit of logical thinking to comprehend that chances of survival in this hell were very low”, Priska later remembered. They drank every liquid they could find, from dishwater to swamp water. They ate rotten vegetables. Plagued by hunger and thirst, covered by wounds and appalled by their own odor, the women survived from one hour to the next and from one day to another - they themselves were shrinking while their bellies grew.
On September 22, the women were driven on to trains again in droves. The trip lasted three days and two nights in closed-off cargo cars. Due to the high number of people stuffed into each car, breathing was difficult. Many died of exhaustion and were thrown off the trains en route. The destination was the Freiberg concentration camp, where the women were supposed to work in SS-Luftwaffe factories.
Priska’s pregnancy was discovered because a fellow prisoner blew the whistle on her. “A female guard came and asked me if I needed anything. I asked for a foot bath.” Priska had purulent feet and open wounds from the frost and dirt. “People were nice to me because they believed that my child would survive or be normal.” A day later, on April 12, 1945, contractions began. The woman now only weighing 35 kilograms was brought to the sick station and after many hours gave birth to Hana.
Only a few hours later, she was loaded on a train again. The Freiberg camp was encircled by the Allies; the Germans fled and took their slaves with them. During the multiple-day trip, Rachel’s contractions started. She was travelling in a coal car together with the dying because no one thought that she would survive. Mark was born. At a border crossing she got something to eat. That saved her life.
Meanwhile, Anka was holding her belly in a rail car, hoping that she would not give birth on the train. Contractions began on April 29 before the gates of Mauthausen when she shockingly realized where she had ended up. Eva was born.
On May 5, the Americans liberated the prisoners in the camp. The three malnourished mothers and their critically ill infants were brought to hospital wards – and survived. Although Priska, Rachel and Anka shared a similar fate in the same location, they did not know each other. It was not before 2010 that they met at a commemoration in Mauthausen. This year, Hana, Mark and Eva celebrated their 70th birthday together. “Our mothers each had only one child”, they told the “Presse.” “90,000 lives were ended in Mauthausen, ours began here. Our history makes us more than siblings.”