EVA CLARKE, a Holocaust survivor, visited Oxford last Friday evening to talk to Brasenose’s Ashmole Society about her family’s experiences in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Mrs Clarke spoke to a packed audience of 120 students, tutors and university staff in Brasenose’s ante-chapel. Andrew Smith, Labour MP for Oxford East, also attended. The event was held in conjunction with the Holocaust Educational Trust to commemorate Holocaust Memorial Week.
Clarke, 67, was born on April 29th 1945 as her mother, Anka, travelled to Mauthausen concentration camp from Auschwitz. Her father, Bernd, had already been murdered at Auschwitz in January that year.
Describing her mother’s recollections of arriving at Auschwitz in September 1944, “She saw the chimneys spouting the smoke and fire” she said. “It must have looked like hell”.
Anka had given birth to Eva’s brother in February, but the baby had died from pneumonia two months later. Eva said “I owe my life to him.”
“Had my mother arrived at Auschwitz camp holding my brother in her arms, she would have been sent to the gas chambers straightaway.
“But because she arrived in Auschwitz alone, and although she was pregnant with me, nobody knew, so she lived to see another day.”
Shortly before giving birth to Eva, Anka was moved across Europe on a three week train journey. “It was filthy, there was no food and barely any water,” Eva said. “By the time they arrived, my mother was nine months pregnant and she weighed five stone. She was a scarcely living pregnant skeleton.”
During the question and answer session a graduate student at Queen’s provoked the ire of the audience when he suggested that “there were no death camps outside of Poland”.
Andrew Smith described meeting Clarke as “humbling”. It was “immensely moving” he said, “to hear of her family’s dreadful experiences of the Holocaust, to learn about her mother’s suffering and bravery, and the extraordinary story of her birth at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp.”
“As a society, and as individuals, we must do everything we can to remember and commemorate the people who died, and to try to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust are learnt. It was very heartening to see so many students come along to hear Eva’s presentation, and clear from their reactions that it had enormous impact.”