I have always been interested in documenting this story because it is unique. There are many children survivors of the Holocaust but even if they were young, many of them would have had some residual memories about their experiences at the time. They may remember some things about the war or they were old enough to be told how it was, but for babies, it is completely different. Eva was only a few months old when she was sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with her grandmother. She has had to compose a picture for herself as to what happened because she would have been too young to remember anything. She is the youngest survivor of Bergen-Belsen.
Roslyn Sugarman, Adelaide, December 2003.
It is probably best if I tell the story as it was told to me: I was born in 1944 in Bratislava whilst my parents were in hiding. My full name is Eva Francesca Maria Bader. Maria was added on the end because I was baptized in order to try and save my life.
My father was a civil engineer and worked for the railways; he had a prominent position. My mother was a schoolteacher. In 1939 two of my father’s brothers managed to get out with their wives and they went to live in England.
My parents and grandparents (on my father’s side) were all hiding and I know that they were ultimately betrayed and that’s how we were eventually caught and taken away. Who, how or what, I have got no idea. My family had been in hiding for many years. They must have gone out at different times because my grandfather, as I’m told, was picked up on the streets. I suppose that somebody must have pointed him out. He wasn’t in the actual hiding place when everyone else was taken. Then they took away my parents. I was hidden in the secret room with my grandmother when my parents were taken. Someone must have known that we were there because shortly afterwards they came back for my grandmother and me.
I think my parents were taken to Therezin. Thereafter, my father was taken to Dachau where he died. There was no trace of my mother. I don’t know what happened to her or where she died.
As far as I know, I was taken with my grandmother straight to Bergen Belsen concentration camp. My grandmother kept me alive all this time but unfortunately she died the day before the British came though.
When the British arrived to liberate the inmates of Bergen-Belsen, they moved all the inmates into the German quarters because the camp was infested with rats and disease. They burnt it down and moved them into the German quarters, and made one of the rooms into a nursery for the children. I was in one of the cots. Apparently I was the size of a three-month old baby although I was 16 months old at the time. I was small because of malnutrition. Apparently I was a pretty sick baby.
One of the Red Cross nurses that used to come in and visit the children was a woman by the name of Enid Fernandez. She noticed a Polish woman who kept coming in to see how I was getting on. She asked the woman through an interpreter who I was. My grandmother had befriended this Polish lady and it was thanks to her that it became known who I was. The Polish woman told the nurse my name and my grandmother’s name and where I came from. She also told her that my grandmother had sons in England. She told all the details she could think of; she may even have known one of the names of the sons. The nurse used to keep a pad of paper tied around her waist and she used to write down all the stories whenever she heard them. She thought that this particular story sounded familiar and so she checked through her book. Coincidently, she had met up with a Czech air force man who had told her the story about a baby that had been taken away with her grandmother. She had noted the name of the baby, her parents and grandparent’s names. The most important part was that he knew one of my uncles in England, and had his address. The story tied up. Through the efforts of the Red Cross and this compassionate nurse, my uncle was contacted.
In the meantime I was sent to Sweden for recuperation. Letters were written back and forth and as soon as my uncle knew that I was alive, he sent for me and I was taken over to England.
Originally I was going to be adopted by my uncle Alfred, the one initially contacted by the Red Cross. I believe that when I came to England the family were all living together in one house, although I’m not exactly sure where it was, it could have been Chingford. My uncle (Alfred Bader) and aunt had a house there and they had two daughters, 16 months between them. I was smack bang in the middle of them. Being a bit of a handful they couldn’t cope with me, so my stepmother Ditty who was married to Leslie (Latzy) offered to take me. They also had two children but would have been in a better position in as much as they didn’t have small children to contend with. Susie, 8.5 years older than me, would have been about 10 going on 11 when I came to England and my brother John, 5 years older than me would have been 9 years old. I call them my brother and sister.
I was not a typical two-year old. Apparently, from what I’m told, I grabbed everything. I grabbed all the toys and wouldn’t let anyone near them. I screamed at everybody. I believe I once bounced my cot down the stairway. I was a naughty child but I believe I was also an emotionally disturbed child, although physically I was pretty right by then. For many years I had lots of chest problems, breathing problems. I used to get quite frustrated because I had to have all these x-rays. I also had a lot of dry patches all over my skin and I remember for many years my stepmother had to put cream on.
I had quite a lot of trouble at school when I first started. I got frustrated at school because I wanted to learn but couldn’t absorb anything. I guess they would now label me as “hyperactive” or “attention deficit”. I had a lot of problems. I was fortunate in so much as a couple of teachers took me under their wings. One in particular when I was in infant’s school. She took me under her wing after school and used to tutor me.
I remember I used to be sent to boarding schools near the seaside when my parents went on holidays. These boarding schools used to take on other children whose parents went away, and I went quite often to different ones for many years. I was sent on my own from about 7 years on until about 11 years. We might have had the odd holiday together in between. Sometimes I went to stay with my other aunt and uncle so that my parents had time for themselves. It was in one of these places that one of the teachers took me under his wing and taught me to read, which was fantastic because I had great troubles struggling with reading. I think I was about 8 years old at that stage and it was one of the most exciting times in my life, to be able to read.
I was about 10 when I was told that I was adopted. Obviously, I was too young to remember anything from my childhood. Up till then I really didn’t have any memory of anything. When I was told about my natural parents I actually used to fantasize that they were going to come back for me. I used to fantasize that my mother was alive, because as I say, they don’t really know what happened to her. But of course, in reality she died. There was a possibility that she died en route to Dachau. I really don’t know. I have got no way of really knowing.
Once I was told that I was adopted, I could see disparities in the way I was treated. I was a child looking for differences. My brother and sister were given things but everything for me was a hand-me-down. I put it down to the fact that when I was growing up they didn’t have enough money. I also got my girl cousins hand-me-downs because I was the smallest of the lot. It was a bit frustrating when my aunt, to be kind, used to buy three outfits all the same, and I would have the same three outfits for years on end. Sailor outfits. I hate sailor outfits! My aunt used to buy me different things and spoil me. I was not mistreated or anything like that, but I was treated slightly differently. I always got the leftovers.
I have collected many letters and telegrams that were sent backwards and forwards from the Red Cross to my uncle in England. Enid Fernandez, the Red Cross nurse, kept in touch with my stepparents for many years, and I met her when I was 12 years old. I remember she kept watching me, and she commented that it was amazing to watch me walk, as I was so weak and ill as a baby that they never thought I would develop into a normal child.
They reckon I was probably in the camp from about six months old until I was about 16 months. Or, I might have been nine months old when I went in, I’m not sure exactly. It’s a bit vague, but I was at least 16 months old when I came out. My grandmother kept me alive, but she died because she gave me as much of her food as she could. Sadly, she died the day before liberation. She was apparently weak and sick, and finally died a “natural” death. From what I can gather, she died knowing that the British were on their way. Hopefully she died realizing that she had actually saved me. That would have been wonderful for her. It is a miracle that I survived. I guess people like the Polish woman must have rallied around. You just don”’t know, not being old enough at that time to know the details.
Unfortunately there are not many alive that could tell me any more than I already know. Next year I am hoping to go to the Czech Republic and to Bratislava. I am hoping to find out where my parents lived, or something about them. I have their marriage certificate, indicating they were married in a little town 30km from Bratislava, but that’s all. I have a cousin in the Czech Republic who speaks the language and she is going to make some enquiries and see if she can find out any information. I especially want to know what happened to my mother, where she might have been sent or what could have happened to her.
Piecing together bits and pieces of information from the few documents that I have tells quite a story. The irony is that my parents had actually applied to come to Australia. I have got a document that proves that my father had gone to have a medical examination to see whether he was fit to travel. My parents were trying to get out some way or another, but unfortunately did not make it. Eventually the borders were closed and they couldn’t get out. Neither did my grandparents. I don’t know what happened to them either.
Apparently I was a very much-wanted baby, but of course I never got to know my parents.
From what I’m told, I was the youngest survivor in that camp. I believe at the camp nothing since has ever grown there. They have it as a memorial now. I have never been back and have got no wish to go back; that is one place that I am not particularly keen to revisit. I don’t think it serves any purpose anyway.