Anka Bergman 1917-2013

Anka Bergman 1917-2013


Anka and her daughter Eva Clarke

Anka Bergman was born in 1917 in the small town of Třebechovice in what is now the Czech Republic.  She grew up with her parents, two sisters and brother – the family were Jewish, but not religious.  Anka went to a boarding grammar school before studying law at Prague University.

The Nazis invaded in 1939 and one of their first acts was to close the universities – so Anka found work as a hatmaker.  She met and married an architect, Bernd Nathan, who had left Germany for Prague in 1933 following the rise of the Nazis but now found himself again living under their rule.  For around a year and a half they managed to live a normal existence but Jews came under increasingly strong restrictions, such as having to wear a yellow star.

At the end of November 1941 Bernd and Anka were order to a warehouse near Holesovice station in Prague.  Separated from her husband, Anka was sent to Theresienstadt, a former barracks that was transformed into a ghetto for Jews.  She got a job working in the provisions store – something that helped her to feed the 15 members of her extended family that had also been forced to move to the ghetto.  Food was scarce, but her job allowed her to either use her contacts in the kitchens or steal food to boost their meagre diet.

Although the sexes were segregated, Anka managed to meet with her husband and fell pregnant.  Discovering this, the Gestapo forced her to sign a document stating that if the baby was born it would be killed.  However, this didn’t happen – her son died of pneumonia at the age of two months.

In September 1944 Bernd was sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau.  Not understanding what the camp was, and pregnant again, Anka volunteered to join him.  After a horrendous railway journey packed into a cattle truck she arrived at the camp in October 1944, and was selected to work – had her son survived and arrived with her, she would have been sent to the gas chambers within hours.  Anka was never to see her husband again – she learnt after the war that he had been shot.

Despite being severely malnourished, Anka was selected for slave labour in an armaments factory near Dresden in Germany.  In the closing weeks of the war, with her pregnancy going undetected by the Nazis, she was evacuated into the countryside, travelling in open coal trucks. Suffering from malnutrition, Anka believes her life was saved by a farmer who gave her a glass of milk during this time.

Her group was moved to Mauthausen concentration camp but survived as the gas chambers had been blown up the day previously.  There she gave birth to her daughter, Eva, who weighed just 3lbs, and was liberated by American troops three days later.

Returning to Prague, she stayed with relatives who had also survived the Holocaust.  However, her husband, parents, and two sisters had been murdered at Auschwitz.  She met Karel Bergman, a Czech who had fought with the RAF during the war, and moved to Cardiff in 1948 to start a new life.  

Anka passed away in July 2013.  She is survived by her daughter, Eva Clarke, who speaks regularly on behalf of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

A BBC1 programme, 'The Baby Born in the Concentration Camp' about Anka and Eva's extraordinary story is available on iPlayer until 6th August.