Born Survivors - Henley Literary Festival review

With some people's lives, one can only speculate on the fortitude and determination that enabled them to survive things most of us couldn't even imagine. In her latest book 'Born Survivors', author and journalist Wendy Holden chronicles the stories of three extraordinary women, who in their youth were pregnant when sent to Auschwitz.

How could Priska, Rachel and Anka survive in such circumstances? Losing everything they'd ever known and in a place where death was a possibility around every corner, in one wrong move or encounter. Indeed, how could any individual stay sane and hang on to focus on survival? Especially when having to protect and hide a little life. Also, in what ways did chance events end up making the difference between extinction and carrying on?

Interviewed by Daniel Hahn, Wendy was joined on stage by Eva Clarke, Anka's daughter. She was born on a cart five months after her mother was sent to the camp. At birth she weighed just 3lbs and was so frail she didn't even cry. Eva's extremely moving testimony revealed not just the many ways Anka managed to survive the camps, but also her subsequent life and attitude to her experiences. I really admired Eva's compassion in relation to refugees everywhere today. That the Shoah, although unique in history, reflects fundamental human attitudes and motivations which never go away.

With each recollection, Eva and Wendy managed to show how even in the worst of situations, where everything is calculated to dehumanise and destroy a person, the best in humanity can prevail. Sixty five years after their liberation, these three children of the camps met for the first time. They saw themselves as 'siblings of the heart'.

(C) Gideon Hall 2015.
Born Survivors: Wendy Holden and Eva Clarke, 10:30am Tuesday 29 Sep 2015

Author's review: