Saturday, 27 February 2016

“Born Survivors: Three Young Mothers and Their Extraordinary Story of Courage, Defiance, and Hope” by Wendy Holden

 The Holocaust – the most terrible crime in the human history

The Holocaust was a process which was scheduled, institutionally organized and regularly carried out by the Nazi Germany. During the Second World War nearly six million European Jews were killed. In the years 1939-1945, i.e. between the German invasion of Poland and the end of the war in Europe, the Nazis aimed for the total extermination of Jews in Europe. On the basis of the Greek meaning of the word holocaustikós, which means burnt-offering, i.e. in the other words burnt in one piece, the extermination of the Jewish population was defined as the Holocaust.

Publisher: Little Brown
United Kingdom 2015
The persecution of the Jews began almost immediately after Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) had come to power, and it was in January 1933. Many historians claim that this date is an indicator of the beginning of the Holocaust era. In November 1938 during the so-called Crystal Night (in German: Kristallnacht), which took place in the Nazi Germany, Jewish property began to be destroyed. The Nazis started to carry out the mass arrests of Jews because of their race. The Jews were also imprisoned in the Nazi camps. But we must remember that not only they became the victims of the regime which Hitler introduced to Europe. According to the racist ideology of Nazis Germany, they considered themselves the representatives of a superior race (the Nordic-Aryan), and the Jews were regarded as a so-called anti-race. Hitler's racist and anti-Semitic ideologies were aimed at maintaining “racial purity” and then creating a group of "supermen".

In the history of humanity, the Holocaust was the most criminal period which is called Genocide. The fascists committed unimaginable crimes, not only associated with the Jewish people, but also with those who suffered from mental illnesses, were homosexuals, members of the Communist Party which was banned by the Third Reich at that time, as well as believers, for example, of the Church of Jehovah's Witnesses. However, any of those groups, the Holocaust does not apply to such an extent and on such a large scale as it was in the case of the Jewish people, whose destruction was carefully planned and prepared. Slavs – Poles, Russians, Ukrainians, Yugoslavs and the Czechoslovaks – were considered by the Nazis as the worst race. Poles were also treated as so-called "sub humans" by the Nazis. On the other hand the Polish children who were “Aryan-looking” were subjected to the Germanization, and the representatives of the Polish intelligentsia and leaders were murdered, while others were sentenced to live in captivity.

During the Second World War the Jews were forced to live in ghettos and work as slave labour. The largest of these ghettos was in Warsaw, where more than four hundred and eighty thousand Jews were incarcerated. The Warsaw ghetto was liquidated in May 1943, and after the Nazi mass deportations to Treblinka in the summer of 1942 and after the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943. As far as the Lodz ghetto is concerned, which was the second largest, there were two hundred twenty thousand Jews in the greatest density. The quite large ghettos were also in Lvov, Minsk, Vilnius and Terezín. The last of which was created in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Some ghettos were surrounded by a wall or fence in order to isolate of the residents and separate them from people living outside. The Jews lived in the ghettos in inhuman conditions. Their property was confiscated and they were also deprived of their basic needs. The huge population density, lack of hygiene, hunger and the absence of basic medical care meant that very serious diseases were spreading in the ghettos. About twenty percent of the population died in the Warsaw ghetto because of the inhuman living conditions. It had happened even before the Nazis began their deportation to the death camps.

The railroad tracks, guardhouse and main gate of Auschwitz II-Birkenau.
This is the view from the ramp located inside the camp (1945). 

Even before the Nazis came to power they began to plan their concentration camps with the intention of imprisoning the opponents of the Nazi ideology and regime. The first concentration camp was established in Dachau on 23 March 1933; it was two months after Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of the Third Reich. The biggest concentration camps of the Nazi Germany were in Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück and Sachsenhausen. After the outbreak of the Second World War, the Germans established their camps also in the occupied countries’ territories. The largest mass murders in the history of mankind took place in the camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau. The camp was established in 1942 and was located in occupied Poland. More than a million Jews and hundred of thousands of Poles, Sinti and Roma as well as other nationalities were brutally killed there. The final crackdown on the Jewish problem occurred when the Nazis began the mass liquidation of the ghettos which led to the extermination of the Jews who had somehow remained alive.

The policy of Jewish extermination by the Nazi Germans was particularly brutal against children because they were most vulnerable to the consequences of hunger and diseases. First, to the concentrations camps the Nazis sent the children who they considered as “unfit” to complete the fascist plans. In many countries the Jews were saved by ordinary people who for months or even for years hid them. There were situations when Germans occupying high positions in the Nazi hierarchy helped the Jewish people. For this reason a lot of people received the official title of Righteous Among the Nations which is given to those who in some way protected the Jews from inescapable death, although they were not Jews. So far more than six thousand Poles have received this honour. It is the vast majority of the people coming from other countries. However, it is said that during the war even more Poles helped the Jewish population to save their lives. We do not know their names. However, we must remember that most of the people were only passive observers of the Holocaust.

The arrival of a new transport of prisoners to Terezín.
Before Anka Nathanová was deported to Auschwitz II-Birkenau, she had lived
 in the concentration camp in Teresienstadt. 

At this point let me mention a family coming from Markowa – a town located in Podkarpacie near Lancut (south-eastern Poland). It was the Ulma family whose members gave their lives for those and together with those who they had hidden in their house. On March 24, 1944 a terrible tragedy took place in the village. That day in the morning the German police brutally killed seventeen people. Joseph and Victoria Ulma and their six children died as well as the eight Jews coming from the Szall and Goldman families including the Goldmans’ little daughter. The enormity of that crime is simply unimaginable. At the moment of the execution Victoria Ulma, who was then pregnant, began to give birth to another child who was her seventh baby…

Now let's focus on the unique book by Wendy Holden who in a very moving way describes the story of three incredibly brave women. Priska, Rachel and Anka were young married Jewish women who did not hesitate to oppose the cruel policy of the Nazis to be able to prevent their unborn babies from the death. Each of them was deported to the concentration camp called Auschwitz II-Birkenau in 1944. Before the nightmare really began, each of these women had had to undergo a visual inspection of the fascist doctor called Josef Mengele (1911-1979), who asked the same question to Priska, Rachel and Anka: "Are you pregnant?" His beady eyes gave the women a piercing stare. However, they answered “No”, even though they were already aware of their pregnancies.  

Josef Mengele called
the "Angel of Death". 
We must add that after the war Josef Mengele was considered as a war criminal. On his victims he conducted his pseudo-medical experiments whose the primary purpose was to find ways of a genetic Aryan traits in children and increase the number of multiple pregnancies. Accordingly, the primary object of his interests became twins. It was on them he carried out his gruesome medical research. Then the twins were often killed, and the “Angel of Death” compared their internal organs. For his experiments Mengele chose victims primarily from the Jewish and Roma prisoners. He conducted his cruel tests without anesthesia. He conducted amputations, injected bacteria causing diseases, intentionally infected wounds and performed lumbar punctures. He repeatedly attempted the replacement of blood between the twins. In the camp he had two laboratories and an experimental hall at his disposal where he conducted postmortem examinations. The experimental hall was in one of the crematoriums. Apart from that Josef Mengele decided about the life or death of people from the new transport. He knew who would be destined to die, and who would be suitable to work for some time. A lot of prisoners were usually so weakened that they finally died or were sentenced to death because they ceased to be useful.

Priska Löwenbeinová (Slovak), Rachel Friedman (Polish) and Anka Nathanová (Czech) did not know what would have happened to their babies if they had told the truth. They did not know that Josef Mengele would do anything to snatch their babies from them for his bestial medical experiments. The women nevertheless denied their pregnancies almost without hesitation, and then did what they could in order to hide their pregnancies not only from the Nazis, but also from their fellow-prisoners. Of course, all that time they were working hard and starving while secretly believing that one day they would come home to their families and beloved husbands who were also deported to the concentration camps. The women hoped that one day they would be able to lead the life they had led before the war and which had been brutally discontinued. So, there were two things which kept them alive. Their profound belief and hope that tomorrow would be better and their great love for babies who they hoped would be born soon.

During their seven moths in concentration and slave labour camps, Priska, Rachel and Anka witnessed great cruelty. In Birkenau they were told that their families had been murdered in the gas chambers after the Nazis persuaded them that they were going there just to have a shower. The women could also see smoke rising from the crematorium chimney and they were terrified, because they realized that one day the Nazis could give their order to them to go to “have a shower”. After some time, all three women were transported to the labor concentration camp in Freiberg (Germany), where they were forced to do hellish work at the production of the combat aircrafts. Months later they were taken to another concentration camp at in Mauthausen (Austria). During those days the babies of Priska, Rachel and Anka were born. Hana (the daughter of Priska) was born first, then Mark (the son of Rachel), and finally Eva (the daughter of Anka). We must add that the women were not aware of one another’s existence although they were kept in the same camps. Their adult children found one another in 2010 and finally met in the place where they were born and where their mothers miraculously survived.

The streets of the Lodz ghetto where Rachel Friedman had stayed before 
she was transported to Auschwitz II-Birkenau. In the background 
of this picture we can see the Jewish synagogue on Wolborska street (March, 1940). 

Wendy Holden’s book is extremely moving. Nothing is spared to the reader. The author describes the concentration camps’ nightmare with incredible accuracy. She also chronicles the heroines’ life before the outbreak of the Second World War and their deportation, and then after the liberation and their return to their homes to discover their apartments and factories had been stolen from them. Priska, Rachel and Anka had to start all over again. There was almost no one to help them. At some point they finally realized that their beloved husband would never come back home. Therefore they had to take care of their babies who survived only by a miracle. They had to fight for every day. First they did it in the concentration camps, and then in real life. The women were very strong not only physically, but especially psychologically. None of them fell into depression. None of them gave up. They deserved the greatest admiration.

Born Survivors is a book for the present generation and the next. It is the tribute to the victims of the Holocaust. While on the one hand there is a lot of cruelty in this publication, on the other hand there are also quite a few scenes where we can see some humanity in this whole Nazi bestiality. Undoubtedly, the symbol of this humanity is Antonín Pavliček – the chief of the railway station in Horní Bříza (a town in the Czech Republic). The man showed great courage and in spite of the danger which threatened him then, he helped the starving and terrified Jewish women who were being transported to another concentration camp by the Nazis. The US army sergeant – Albert J. Kosiek, whose ancestors came from Poland – was the next man who did a lot of good things for the liberated prisoners in Mauthausen.  

Survivors of Mauthausen cheer American soldiers as they pass through the main gate of the camp.
 The photo was taken a few days after the liberation of the camp (May, 1945). 

The book is filled with tremendous pain and human tragedy which should never have happened in the world. However, we cannot go back in time. Now we can only remember about all those who were brutally murdered in the name of a sick idea that we cannot justify in any way. We cannot forget about those who survived and who experienced unimaginable ordeals. Therefore Born Survivors is not only a tribute to the people murdered during the Second World War, but also a monument to the Holocaust victims and their families. 

If you want to read this review in Polish, please click here.
If you want to read the interviews with Wendy Holden and Hana Berger Moran, please click here and here

Sunday, 21 February 2016

I believe the Holocaust experience was a warning to my family...

Interview with Hana Berger Moran
by Agnes A. Rose

Hana Berger Moran is the daughter of Priska Löwenbeinová who was Slovak. Her mother was one of the three very brave women who were pregnant when they entered Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Priska, Rachel and Anka kept their pregnancies in great secrecy from the Nazis. Hana was born the day before her mother was transported to the Mauthausen Labor Camp in Austria. Hana and her mother are one of the protagonists of the book entitled “Born Survivors” by Wendy Holden. The book was released in Poland in 2015. Hana currently lives in California.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you very much that you agreed to tell your story to my readers. At the beginning I would like to ask you for telling us something more about your brave mother, Priska. What was she?

Hana Berger Moran: Priska was then a 28 year-young woman who was a teacher in a primary school at the time of her deportation, although she studied to become a professor of languages. When she was forced to stop teaching in school, she gave private English, French and German language lessons. She was very lively, loved playing tennis and above all loved her husband, my late father Tibor Löwenbein and her family.

Agnes A. Rose: You were born in a concentration camp. Do you remember when you first learned the story related to your birth? What kind of emotions accompanied you then?

Hana Berger Moran: First time I heard the words ”concentration camp” and the fact that I was actually born in such a place was when I was six year old (in first grade). This is how it happened: I was outside playing after school and children started to call “židka” (Jew). I did not know what it meant so went home and asked my mother. She took me by the hand and we went to stand in front of the photographs of her late parents, my late father and her late sister – and she told me that they all were “židia” and because of that were killed in camps, called concentration camps. Moreover, she too was a židka, was also in such a camp and that is where she gave birth to me. Being six year old, my reaction was, which I actually remember to this day: ”I too want to be like you and them, and now can I go and play outside?”

Agnes A. Rose: How did your mother cope emotionally with her Holocaust experiences? What kept her going day to day in the camp? How did she maintain hope?

Hana Berger Moran: Because mine was my mother’s fourth pregnancy, she was extremely focused to have this child (which became me). Therefore her entire focus was to survive and to bring me back home and there to wait for her beloved Tibor. She was absolutely convinced that she would survive, because she was going to have this little girl, to whom she had already given a name – Hana. Yes, she did give a name to a boy, should it be so... Miško, but she was convinced in her heart that it was going to be a girl. She prayed every day – several times a day and trusted the Almighty to take care of her.

Agnes A. Rose: What kind of work did your mother do in the concentration camp? What kind of conditions did she work under? Could you describe her typical day there?

Hana Berger Moran: In the now famous factory in Freiberg, a porcelain factory converted for the war effort to be an Arado-Flugzeugwerke factory for war planes. She sat or stood by a tall work table and was responsible to put securing locking nuts on the wings with very heavy equipment. If she stopped even for a very short period, she had anything thrown at her – sometimes it was a hammer, sometimes a rag… The prisoners were walked to the factory through Freiberg streets in the morning after Appeal around 6 AM. At the end of the work day, it was the same on the way back.

Agnes A. Rose: How did the Holocaust influence your family? Could you say whether it strengthened or weakened your family?

Hana Berger Moran: I believe the Holocaust experience was a warning to my family – it showed us how people who used to be kind, could change in a very short time, it took for the hateful propaganda to sink in. It also taught me to value the precious life we are given as a gift and to strive to enjoy it. It taught me to be strong yet kind, because we never know who else went through the same experiences – whether then or now.

Hana & Wendy Holden who is the author of
Born Survivors
Agnes A. Rose: How did your mother start her life after the Holocaust?

Hana Berger Moran: In her words, my mother, when she understood that her beloved Tibor was not coming back and having me, a very weak and sickly child to raise herself alone, had immediately started to act in order, as she put it: “put a bigger piece of bread on the table”. While she was teaching in a primary school in Bratislava, she also enrolled (1946) at the University to complete her Masters in English, German and French to get her teacher’s degree to be able to teach at the then schools called Gymnasiums (today the same grades are equivalent to Middle through High School).   

Agnes A. Rose: I read that you never met your father because he is thought to have died on a death march from Gliwice slave labour camp in January 1945. I am sure that your mother told you about him many times. Could you tell us a little bit about him?

Hana Berger Moran: Indeed, my father was killed or died from weakness on the death march from Gliwice in January 1945.  My mother told me how thoughtful, loving, patient and also strong-willed my father was. He was a very analytical thinker and intellectual, a writer, with a very strong sense of right and wrong. He was a Slovak patriot who believed everybody should be free to practice their religion without being forced to suffer for it. He would have never left Czechoslovakia, if not for being deported as is also recorded in the small booklet he wrote in Bratislava.

Agnes A. Rose: What was your family’s life like before WWII?

Hana Berger Moran: Are you asking about the entire family? My grandparents, Paula and Emanuel Rona had a small, modest Kosher Cafe in Zlaté Moravce, in Czechoslovakia. When they were forced to close it in late 1940 they moved to Bratislava to be near their two daughters, Elizabeth (Alžbeta) or Boežka and my mother. Boežka  was a very gifted seamstress and my mother was a teacher. My late father worked as a journalist for the local Jewish newspaper.   

Agnes A. Rose: Did the members of your family try to emigrate in 1939 when the Nazis attacked their native country?

Hana Berger Moran: Only one member of our family did emigrate in 1938 to then Palestine (under English mandate). The rest of our family never thought of it. My father did not believe they had to leave.

Agnes A. Rose: What circumstances led to the fact that now you live in the United States rather than in Slovakia?

Hana Berger Moran: On 21st of August 1968 I was a young woman, married about a year, had my master’s degree in Chemical Engineering and was 6 months pregnant. And I was feeling happy because our country was undergoing a wonderful change – learning to practice socialism with a human face under then president, Alexander Dubček. And then I saw tanks and heard shots and learned that our “brothers” had come to “liberate” us from our freedom and that was that! Within ten days I got a passport, which I did not have till then and went our documents to Austrian embassy to get the visa to Austria. We left, me driving, a tank behind our car, on morning of 31st of August 1968.  Because the only family, my mother’s brothers, lived in Israel I had decided to go there in order to be taken care of with our much anticipated baby. He was born in Ashqelon, Israel, in December 1968. After few years working and studying in the Weizmann Institute of Science, I completed my PhD in Organic Chemistry of Natural Products and moved to United States to initiate my Postdoctoral fellowship. And we decided to stay in US. My mother visited, but never wanted to leave Slovakia. After 17 years of absence I was allowed to start visiting her there in person, which I did several times a year.

This is the Polish edition of Born Survivors
Published by SONIA DRAGA
Katowice 2015
Translated by Przemysław Hejmej 
& Jerzy Rosuł
Agnes A. Rose: How important to you is the book “Born Survivors” by Wendy Holden? Why did you decide to tell the author about your mother and your family?

Hana Berger Moran: It was important for my mother’s story to be heard – my mother did not speak much about her experiences in the camp – most she said was “I was there and came back together with my daughter.” Even when she was interviewed – that was the essence of what she said... and so, when I learned from Wendy what was her goal, there was no doubt in my mind, that it is the right thing to do.

Agnes A. Rose: How do you feel about Germans and Germany today?

Hana Berger Moran: I have mixed feelings – just like everywhere there are good and bad people... same thing that happened in Germany in 1930s can and is happening today... to a different degree. I visited Germany on business and also have visited Freiberg.

Agnes A. Rose: I know that you came back to the place where you were born. You also met with the surviving children of Rachel and Anka. Was it very traumatic for you?

Hana Berger Moran: It was wonderful to meet Dr. Mark Olsky and Eva Nathan Clarke: we started to call ourselves siblings right then and there as neither of us has a sister or brother and so it fits that we are that to each other. That feeling of love took over everything.

The place is shocking and I will tell you, that I never understood, and now even more – so, how did my mother survive those 7 months! How did she do it? How did they all do it?  It was , is and will always be traumatic for me, even though I say proudly – “we are here!”

Agnes A. Rose: What about Auschwitz? Did you visit this place, too? If so, what are your feelings associated with your visit in Poland?

Hana Berger Moran: I have not visited Auschwitz. My grandparents maternal and paternal and my aunt perished there in the gas chambers (1942 and 1944 respectively). My feelings are not much different about Poland then they always were – it is a country north of Slovakia. What I am a little worried about is the very current development in Poland, but that is politics and I will not go into it now. I believe that the same comment applies as mentioned above – Jews were the scapegoats even the very poor Jews – it was so everywhere. And what a pity.

Agnes A. Rose: What message would you like to leave with the people here? What would you like people to remember about your mother experiences? How should people respond to genocide and human rights violations today?

Hana Berger Moran: We must never forget the evil that happened. We need to understand what needs are fulfilled by that hatred. Without that understanding the people will continue to be able to be controlled by hysteria and hatred without a thought to what brought it on.

We must learn to enjoy life, to love every sunrise and sunset, and learn to love each other by learning about our differences.

Agnes A. Rose: Thank you so much for this conversation. This is extremely important to me. I am very happy that I could talk to you. Is there anything you would like to add?

Hana Berger Moran: Thank you for contacting me, Agnes – I am honored. For many years I had a pen-pal in Warsaw – now the letters are lost, but we wrote each other every month – she in Polish and I in Slovak. It was wonderful.

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please clock here

Thursday, 18 February 2016

I like to write stories that inspire me and others...

Interview with Wendy Holden
by Agnes A. Rose

Wendy Holden, also known as Taylor Holden, was born in 1961 in Pinner (North London). She is an experienced British novelist, journalist and author of screenplays. She has published more than thirty books, including two novels. Many of her works have been adapted for radio and television. She worked as a reporter for eighteen years, including ten years for the Daily Telegraph in London. She has also worked as an editor for the literary consulting firm – The Writer’s Workshop. In 2006 Wendy Holden published her first novel The Sense of Paper which widespread critical acclaim. Her non-fiction titles have chiefly chronicled the lives of remarkable subjects. The latest is Born Survivors which was published in Poland in 2015. The book is the incredible story of three mothers who defied death at the hands of the Nazis to give life. Wendy Holden has also written several significant bestsellers as a so-called ghostwriter, inter alia, Behind Enemy Lines, about a German Jewish spy, Till the Sun Grows Cold, about a young Englishwoman caught up in the war in Sudan, and Tomorrow to be Brave, about the only woman in the French Foreign Legion. She has also written a few celebrity biographies including A Lotus Grows in the Mud, with actress Goldie Hawn and Lady Blue Eyes, a collection of memories of Barbara Sinatra, the singer’s wife. She currently lives in Suffolk (England).

Agnes A. Rose: Wendy, I am very honored that I can host you on my blog and talk to you. Let’s start our conversation with your latest book which is really special and emotional. In “Born Survivors” you tell the story of Priska, Rachel and Anka. They were all pregnant when they entered Auschwitz II-Birkenau. What inspired you to reach for such a difficult subject?

Wendy Holden: I happened upon an obituary of a woman who’d been imprisoned in Auschwitz and had a baby there that died. Although I have read many books about the Holocaust, I’ve never read anything before about babies are born in concentration camps which set me on my quest. I was staggered to discover that nothing had been written previously. Further research led me to one mother and then the other two and their remarkable miracle babies. This is the first book ever to chronicle such a story.

Agnes A. Rose: Was it difficult to find the surviving children of Priska, Rachel and Anka? What was their reaction when you informed them that you were going to describe the dramatic history of their family?

Wendy Holden: I came across Anka’s baby Eva first and by chance she lived one hour from me in England. I spent the day with her and we laughed and cried and at the end I asked if she would allow me the great honour of writing her mother’s story. She reached across and touched my arm and told me, “I’ve been waiting for you for nearly 70 years.” I told her I believed her story to be unique and she said that for the first 65 years of her life she thought so too but then discovered the other two babies whose mothers had been on exactly the same journey as hers. That is when I knew I had to contact them as well and ask them if I could include their stories in this book. Fortunately for me, babies Hana and Mark were equally delighted and are thrilled that their mothers’ courage has finally been publicly honoured.

Agnes A. Rose: Knowing the realities of a concentration camp I cannot imagine how Priska, Rachel and Anka were able to hide their pregnancies. Why didn’t the Nazis murder these brave women? What did the women do that they managed to save not only their own lives but also their babies?

Wendy Holden: They were able to hide their pregnancies because they were given baggy clothing and each mother was almost starved and worked to death for the entire duration of their pregnancy. By the time of their babies were born, each weighed less than 70 pounds and infants under 3 pounds.

Agnes A. Rose: Priska, Rachel and Anka must have been extremely strong women not only psychologically but also physically. They were living in the very harsh camp conditions so they could loose their babies. How did they manage to take care of their health? Was it possible at all?

Wendy Holden: Each mother would say simply that they survived because of luck. They were lucky that they did not succumb to various diseases that rampaged through the camp. They were fortunate that they didn’t injure themselves and were dispatched back to Auschwitz. They were lucky that they were young, fit and healthy before the war and were able to survive the dramatic weight loss and mice infestation as well as bitter cold and unendurable living and working conditions.

Agnes A. Rose: All the babies were born before, during or after their mothers were transported to the Mauthausen Labor Camp in Austria. It was a seventeen-day hellish journey by train. Could you tell us something more about the circumstances of the babies’ births?

Wendy Holden & Hana Berger Moran
Hana is the daughter of Priska 
Wendy Holden:  Priska gave birth to baby Hana on a plank in the German factory the night before they were to be evacuated. The Nazis watched and leered and took bets on whether it might be a boy or a girl. They didn’t murder her or her baby as they knew they were being sent away to be gassed the next day anyway. Rachel gave birth to baby Mark a week later in an open coal wagon on the train full of dead and dying women in the middle of a deluge. She was close to death herself and never expected her, or her tiny infant, to survive. Anka gave birth to Eva on the back of a cart full of lice-infested women at the gates of the camp. Thrown into a barracks with her child while the Nazis prepared to flee, she was also not expected to live.

Agnes A. Rose: While researching what was the most frightening for you? What event in your heroines’ camp lives was the most gruesome?

Wendy Holden: Their experiences at Auschwitz II-Birkenau were probably he most terrifying for them. Each came under the eagle-eyed scrutiny of Dr Joseph Mengele, the “Angel of Death”. He asked each if they were pregnant and they all denied it, before being chosen for slave labour. Had been discovered while Auschwitz was still operational and Dr Mengele still in charge, they would have been sent back and treated most cruelly, as others were.

Agnes A. Rose: What challenges you the most in your writing “Born Survivors”?

Wendy Holden: The only way I could get through the researching and writing of it was to focus on finding the humanity in the inhumanity. Thanks to the kindness of strangers during their incarceration, these women and their babies survived. The stories of the people who risked their own lives to help them restored my faith in human nature.

Agnes A. Rose: During our conversation I cannot stop thinking about the women’s husbands. Could you tell us if they managed to survive the concentration camps?

Wendy Holden: Sadly, they did not. Each of them were killed by the Nazis just a few weeks or even days before their camps were liberated.

Agnes A. Rose: What were the lives of the women and their babies after the liberation?

Wendy Holden: Harrowing and extremely challenging. They not only lost their husbands but numerous members of their immediate family. They returned to their homes to discover their apartments occupied and their belongings stolen. They faced further anti-Semitism and all but Priska in Slovakia fled to start new lives abroad.

Agnes A. Rose: What insights did you get into Jewish life as you wrote your latest book?

Wendy Holden: Too many to list in one answer. I am not Jewish and I learned so much about their rich culture including the fact that they traditionally lay stones, not flowers, on graves. As I was writing and researching the book, I collected white pebbles from my local beach and when I visited each of the mothers’ graves in America, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, I lay three white pebbles at each tomb to represent each of them. I had a handful of stones left and when we launched the book in North America, the three babies placed my last three stones on the grave of the US liberator of the concentration camp where they were expected to die, as his sons looked on. It was a deeply emotional moment.

Agnes A. Rose: Sometimes I can hear that making art about the Holocaust is not ethical. Some editors have even said: “No more Holocaust stories.” What is your take on that? Did you feel concern about that while you were writing “Born Survivors”?

This is the Polish cover of "Born Survivors"
Published by SONIA DRAGA 
Katowice 2015
Translated by Przemysław Hejmej 
& Jerzy Rosuł
Wendy Holden: Not once. There can never be enough reminders of what happened in Europe within living memory, especially not while these three babies still survive. Hitler and his Nazis fully intended them to die along with the rest of Europe’s Jews. To be able to sit alongside these living breathing examples of courage, defiance and hope and know that within their lifetimes we have managed to triumph over such evil, is a timely reminder of how good can prevail.

Agnes A. Rose: In your book I read that during your researching you visited Poland. I would like to ask you about your experience of staying in Poland. Is there anything what most stuck in your memory?

Wendy Holden: I loved my visit to Poland, although probably the most harrowing part of my research was to follow in the mothers’ footsteps at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Krakow has become one of my favourite cities in the world and I also travelled to Lodz and Warsaw, so beautifully reconstructed after the war. When we launched the book in Warsaw I can honestly say that I had some of the most interesting and intelligent questions from the audience of almost anywhere I have been. Through largely an accident of geography, Poland has taken its place in history as centre stage of this terrible time and I was greatly encouraged to see a Jewish festival happening in Warsaw and young people so curious about the subject matter of my book. It is only through educating and informing the next generation that we can benefit from the lessons of the last.

Agnes A. Rose: So far you have written a lot of books. Is “Born Survivors” the most important to you?

Wendy Holden: “Born Survivors” is, without doubt, my most important book historically. It was the greatest privilege of my life to write and I consider it my legacy work.

Agnes A. Rose: Could you tell us how your meetings with your readers look like? While talking to them what do you pay your attention to? What questions do they ask?

Wendy Holden: In the last eight months I have travelled to 11 countries and spoken to hundreds of people about this book at museums, bookshops, synagogues, churches and literary festivals. I am usually accompanied by one of the babies – sometimes all three – and we speak for about an hour, detailing each of the mother’s stories before we take questions. Everywhere we go, people are visibly moved and often in tears and eager to shake the hands of these remarkable survivors. Some people want to know about forgiveness or the nature of evil. Many enquire what affects their births have had on them. The babies are all so positive and cheerful and optimistic – as were their mothers largely – that they usually say that they hope only to remind people of what happened so that it never happens again.

Agnes A. Rose: What is your next project? Could you tell us something more about it?

Wendy Holden: I like to write stories that inspire me and others. I am currently working on another inspirational memoir about somebody who has been dealt a very bad hand in life but who has turned it into a positive and decided to try to help others even less fortunate than himself. I am also working on a new novel that – although not set in the war – has echoes of it lurking in the background.

Agnes A. Rose: I am extremely grateful to you for this valuable interview. Is there anything you would like to tell your Polish readers?

Wendy Holden: (I hope my Polish is correct). Dziękuję za zainteresowanie tą ważną i inspirującą książką. Mam nadzieję, że Wam się spodoba i że odmieni Wasze życie tak samo, jak odmieniła moje. Wendy Holden x 

If you want to read this interview in Polish, please click here