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

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