Born Survivors
Three Young Mothers and Their
Extraordinary Story of Courage,
Defiance, and Hope
by Wendy Holden

US Publisher: Harper
Publication Date: May 5, 2015

Sind Sie schwanger, fesche Frau?’ (Are you pregnant, pretty woman?) The question directed at Priska Lowenbeinova was accompanied by a smile as her SS inquisitor stood, legs apart, looking her up and down… Dr. Josef Mengele had halted in front of the twenty-eight-year-old teacher as she stood naked and shivering with embarrassment on an open parade ground within hours of arriving at Auschwitz II Birkenau. It was October, 1944. Priska, at just under five feet tall, looked younger than her years. She was flanked by approximately five hundred other naked women, few of whom knew each other. All Jewish, they were as stupefied as she was after being transported to the concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland from homes or ghettos across Europe, packed sixty at a time into sealed freight wagons of trains up to fifty-five cars long.

When it was her turn, Priska Lowenbeinova had only a few seconds to decide how to respond to the smiling officer with the gap between his front teeth. She didn’t hesitate. Shaking her head quickly, the accomplished linguist replied to his question in German: “Nein.” By then two months pregnant with her longed-for child by her husband Tibor, she had no idea if telling the truth might save her or condemn her and her child to an unknown fate. But she knew she was in the presence of danger. With one arm shielding her breasts while her other covered what was left of her pubic hair, she prayed Mengele would accept her blunt denial. The SS officer with the suave looks paused for a second to stare into the face of the young ‘fesche Frau’ before moving on….

Wendy Holden (aka Taylor Holden) has published over 30 books, including two novels. Her 34th book is “Born Survivors” – the story of three infants born in Nazi death camps, the youngest survivors of the Shoah, and their subsequent lives. To complete the book, she traveled from her home in Suffolk (UK) to the San Francisco Bay Area, Prague, Nashville, Auschwitz, and Bratislava. The “book launch” was held at the Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria last week.

Hana and Priska in 1949 (credit Hana Berger Moran)

Hana and Priska in 1949 (credit Hana Berger Moran)

Holden tells the stories of three mothers – Priska, Rachel, and Anka – neither of whom ever met. They each secretly defied death and gave birth. Rachel was imprisoned at Auchwitz; her husband was shot and killed, unbeknownst to her. Anka and Priska were also sent to Auschwitz and separated from their husbands. Later they were sent from Auschwitz Birkenau to an aircraft factory in Germany. Priska gave birth in April 12, 1945, 70 years ago, on a factory floor that was using slave labor in Freiberg/Saxony. She was then sent to Mauthausen. Rachel gave birth on the 17 day train trip to Mauthausen, Austria, in an open coal wagon on April 21. Anka went into labor as she arrived at the final death camp and gave birth on April 29. All were supposed to be murdered with their newborns, but the camp ran out of Zyklon-B. On May 6, 1945, tanks of the US 11th Armored Division entered Mauthausen and liberated the prisoners.

In Born Survivors, we learn that Hana, having lost three babies before 1944, did everything she could to remain alive and save her child. Hana learned the story of her birth as as a young child in post-War Czechoslovakia. Priska – defying her American liberators – returned to Bratislava in search of her husband. But he most likely died on a death march from the Gliwice slave-labour camp in January 1945. Eva and her mother returned to Prague after the war, and then moved to the Cardiff (UK) when Anka remarried. Rachel and Mark lived in Germany after the war. Rachel married another survivor, moved to Israel, and then moved to American in 1958. Mark is currently a E.R. physician in Wisconsin.

Rachel and Mark 1949 (credit Mark Olsky)

Rachel and Mark 1949 (credit Mark Olsky)

This JewliciousRead is the story of survival and triumph. Because of the book, the three infants, now celebrating their 70th birthdays, met at Mauthausen and shared the tales of their lives. Eva Clarke said, “They are family. I have siblings now.”

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