Mauthausen

I was born in Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria. [in late April 1945]

And when my mother arrived in...in Mauthausen she had such a shock, because- as opposed to when she’d arrived in Auschwitz, not knowing what that was. This time she knew. Because she had heard about this appalling place very early on in the war. And she said that the shock of seeing the name, she always thought probably provoked the onset of her labour. And she started to give birth to me on that coal wagon. She had to climb off the coal wagon unaided. She had to climb on to a cart, because the prisoners who were not strong enough to walk up the hill to the camp, they had to get on to a cart and it was pulled up by others. She had people lying all over her. People with typhus and typhoid fever. And she proceeded to give birth to me. And there was another Nazi officer who saw that she was in the throes of child labour. And he said to her, “Du kannst weiter schreien.” Which as you know, means, “You can carry on screaming”, cause presumably she had been. And she always said that she was screaming not only because she was giving birth, but because she thought this was her very last minute on this earth. She thought she was about to die. ...But we both survived the experience. I was born. I didn’t move. I didn’t breathe. Incredibly the Germans allowed a doctor to come to my mother. A doctor who was also a prisoner. And after a few days my mother actually found out that this doctor was the Head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Belgrade. So he didn’t have any medication, he didn’t have any equipment, but he had the knowledge; he knew what to do. And so he cut the umbilical cord, and he slapped me to make me cry, to make me breathe.

And there are two reasons why we survived, and the first is a very chilling reason. On the 28th of April 1945, the Germans had run out of gas for the gas chambers. My birthday was the 29th. So presumably had my mother arrived on the 26th or the 27th again, I wouldn’t be talking to you now. And the second reason why we survived was because about four or five days after my birth, the American Army liberated the camp. My mother reckoned she wouldn’t have lasted much longer. The Americans came. They had food and they had medicine but, as I’m sure you know, it’s very dangerous to give starving people food. But because my mother spoke fluent English she tried to tell as many people as possible, who didn’t, what the Americans were saying. And they were saying to eat very, very slowly and very small amounts. But you can imagine can’t you, if you’ve been starved for months or years, and suddenly you’re handed an American chocolate Hershey bar, well, you know, you scoffed the lot. And an awful lot of people at that stage collapsed and died. But one hopes that perhaps they realised that they were actually free. They think I weighed three pounds at birth. A three pound baby nowadays is put into an incubator. There were no incubators. Or perhaps I had the best incubator; my mother just held me all the time. Incredibly, my mother was also able to feed me. It was very thin, but there was some liquid there. And she was able to feed me. But what is even more surprising, and, you know, she weighed five stone- What is even more surprising is that three weeks later when we came back to Prague, and when she was safe, the milk just dried up. She couldn’t feed me anymore.

 
 

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