Born a Survivor: An Interview with Eva Clarkeby Jacqueline Bull April 25, 2018
Eva Clarke has dedicated her life to telling the incredible story of her family and how her mother gave birth to her during the Holocaust. This story gets a second act when in her 60’s she finds other families with a similar story and comes in contact with a biographer to share it to the world.
This interview tells the journey of finding the other families and how the book came into existence. It has been edited for space.
Can you tell me about the story of how the book came together?
“‘Born Survivors’ is an amazing book, but I would say that wouldn’t I? [laughs] It was written by a former journalist on The Telegraph, the newspaper here. She was a war correspondent, she was in Iraq amongst other places. Her name is Wendy Holden. She did that for many years and then she had said about 18 years ago that she had enough of life and death and so she decided to give that up and she became a biographer. And she has written several biographies of people in all different walks of life.”
“Wendy, she was browsing the net one day and she saw the obituary of a Holocaust survivor, a lady who had died in Canada… And it said in this obiturary that this lady had a baby in Auschwitz and died in Auschwitz. Wendy thought to herself, ‘I don’t know anything about babies born in the Holocaust and there must have been thousands.’ Anyway she started to browse the net a bit more and she came across my name.”
“She found my name and she then said she would have gone to Australia [to meet me] if necessary and couldn’t believe her luck because she found that I lived one hour’s drive away from her.”
“So she contacted me, she came over for the day; we hit it off straight away. She is a fantastic person, very lively, lovely person. And so I told her the story and at the end of it she asked me if she could have the honor of writing my mother’s story and apparently I said something like ‘I’ve been waiting almost 70 years for this.’ And she said to me ‘Your story must be absolutely unique.’ And I said, ‘Well not exactly’ and she said, ‘What do you mean?’ And then I told her the story of the other two babies who are featured and their mothers in ‘Born Survivors.’”
How did you hear about the story of these other survivors?
“I take all the credit for that. I reckon I found them… My mother had always said that hundreds of photographs were taken of us by the American soldiers when we were liberated in Mauthausen. And I had never been able to find one single one. I’m convinced they must exist in somebody’s shoe box in somebody’s attic. And I contacted the United States Holocaust Memorial museum, I contacted the U.S. Army Veterans, because I found out it was the 11th armored division that had liberated the camp about the 5th of May, 1945.”
“Anyway, then I contacted the Veterans’ Association, and I sent them a photograph of my mother, myself, my son, and my first grandchild-being a four generations photograph. And the Veterans Association, they used to send out a magazine quarterly. And the next quarter, I get a copy of the magazine with our photograph on the front [laughs]. And I had put the caption ‘Without the 11th Armored Division, We Wouldn’t Exist.’ In that particular edition, I opened it and on about the third or fourth page, I find Hannah’s story. Hannah is one of the other babies. I said to my mother, ‘You’re not going to believe this.’ And she said ‘No I don’t believe this.’ She always – we thought we were the only ones! [laughs] And anyway because of the wonders of the internet, I managed to get in touch with Hannah and within 24 or 48 hours, we were emailing. So that is how I made contact with her.”
“In 2010, we were all 65 and we decided we were going to Mauthausen because they always have a very big commemorative ceremony around the time of liberation. And because we were all going to be 65 as well, so but what happened in the spring of 2010, was that Mark who is the other baby, one of his sons, knowing his father was going to be 65 started to browse the net. He must have known that it was the 11th Armoured Division because he went onto their website and found my story.”
“Give another 48 hours and we were emailing with Mark, so we all decided to go to Mauthausen that year for two reasons: to meet one another, but also because it was going to be the last time that the American veterans were going to go there, because every couple of years they would sort of retrace their campaign trail, but because they are all in their 80’s and 90’s you know it was getting to be a bit much, so this was going to be the last time they were going.”
“Anyway I sort of tentatively asked Hannah and Mark if they would consider coming to Cambridge and they came. I think they mainly came because they wanted to meet my mother because both of their mothers were dead, but my mother was anything but and she was also living with us at that stage. And so they came and by chance it happened that we are all only children, so we now feel we have siblings. And it’s wonderful. So Hannah and Mark come into our house and my mother looked at them and she says, ‘Well you’re my children.’ And we all start crying. And so that was the first time we met.”
“But then Wendy, being a reporter, she does a massive amount of research… What she did is she actually traveled all through Europe, she went to all the places where our three mothers had lived and grown up. She retraced their wartime steps in the camps and then she retraced their steps post-war…And she is a very fast writer because she knew she had, if you’ll forgive the pun, the deadline of 2015 because she wanted the book published then because it was the 70th anniversary of the liberation and we would all be 70. And she managed it. And we had the launch of the book in Mauthausen in May of 2015 and that was amazing. There were lots of heads of state there and it was amazing. They made an enormous birthday cake for us [laughs].”
Eva Clarke will be telling the incredible story of how she and her mother survived during the war in person at UC San Diego on May 30.