Eva Mendelsson

Eva Mendelsson, nee Eva Judith Cohn, was born in 1931 in Gengenbach and grew up in Offenburg, where she was the only Jewish child in her class. Toghether with her two sisters they were sent to a Jewish school in Freiburg, where each of the sisters had to board with a Jewish family. Eva recalls Eva’s father was arrested on Kristallnacht and imprisoned for six week. When he came back Eva did not recognize him. A condition of his release was that he needed to emigrate. He managed to get a transit visa to the UK where he was sent to the Kitchener Camp. 

When war broke out Eva’s mother took her and her two sisters to Munich. They stayed there for a while and then went back to Offenburg. One of Eva’s sisters stayed behind in Munich in a children’s home, as the mother thought that it would be easier for her in Munich, as she could not walk properly due to having contracted polio as a small child. The mother gave her sister a diary and hoped that might help her to be apart from the family. When they came back, Eva continued to board in Freiburg. 

On 21 and 22 October 1940 about 6500 Jews from Baden and Saarpfalz were deported to France. Eva was not allowed to go back to her mother and went to the deportation with the family from Freiburg. On the train, she met her mother and sister, who found themselves in the same transport. In France they were taken to an internment camp in Gurs. In March 1941, Eva, her sister and mother were taken to another internment camp in Rivesaltes (near Perpignan). Through the help of the Œuvre de Secours aux Enfants (OSE), the children were taken out of the camps and housed in children home. Eva and her sister went to a children’s home in Château du Masgeliers  (1941-1942) and then to a convent in La Souterraine, Creuse. At some point they were brought back to Camp Rivesaltes. Eva recalls that her mother had a laissez passez to go to the beach with Eva and her sister. On that trip they also visited her aunt who was in Perpignan. 

In August 1942 an order was given to deport Eva, her mother, and her sister and all other Jews (first to Drancy and later to Auschwitz). OSE convinced Eva’s mother to leave the children behind. Before the children parted with their mother, she gave them a book of her poetry (which Eva cherishes and she reads some poems at the end of the interview). The children were taken to a convent and in 1943 smuggled to Switzerland (through Annemasse).  First they were interned in Geneva and later taken to a children home in Ascona (Tessin). In October 1945 Eva and her sister came to the UK to join their father. They found out that her sister died in 1944 in Theresienstadt and that her mother died in 1942 (they were sent a certifictae which says that the mother died due to heart failure). 

The situation with the father was not easy as they had not seen him for seven years. He remarried and Eva studied hotel managment and worked in many jobs. She met her husband in the Habonim youth movement, got married in 1954, and had three children. She is and active member of Alyth Synagogue and started working as a textile artist. Eva speaks regularly in Germany and co-edited several volumes of her mother’s poetry and her sister’s diary . She has not been speaking much in the UK. 

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@ Refugee Voices 2019