Eva Weiss was only a child (seven years of age) when her homeland of Slovakia was invaded by the Nazi Germans in March 1939, turning her world upside down. Living with her parents, older brother and younger sisters in a comfortable apartment building, Eva’s life before this time was carefree and innocent. Her father owned and operated a successful textiles business and, although he travelled often for his job, was a loyal and dedicated family man. The family strongly practiced their Jewish faith every day, only eating kosher food despite the temptation from the trendy cake shops across the road. This dedication to their religion, and their strong familial ties, ensured that most of the family were able to survive by the end of the war, but along the way to freedom they had to endure many hardships.
With extended family members being taken away by the Germans and sent to labour camps, Eva’s father began to secretly gather information and contacts that could potentially help him save his family. He sent Eva (who didn’t look as ‘Jewish’ as the others) to look after her ailing grandparents, helping her to avoid random raids and arrests. Her father then sent her brother and sisters away to live with other relatives in Hungary. After receiving tip-offs of imminent danger, all but one of the children managed to get back to their parents in their hometown of Bratislava-Eva’s sister Judith was unfortunately taken to Auschwitz before she could escape, and was never seen again. By this time, the family had been evicted from their apartment building- forced to live in shared accommodation with other Jewish families- and Eva’s father’s business had been given to a non-Jewish member of the community. With the situation becoming more and more dire, the family split up once again, with Eva’s father separating his children into duos and sending them far away from Bratislava. Eva (now aged twelve) and her sister Marta (aged nine) adopted new personas and moved to Nitra, but as two young girls living alone without adult supervision, they underwent constant surveillance and scrutiny from suspicious neighbours and were interrogated on more than one occasion by the Gestapo.
After living in constant fear for several months, the sisters were visited by some high-ranking officials. Beaten and humiliated, despite sticking to their story, they were evicted from their new home and sent to a detention centre, where Eva was made to sort out confiscated Jewish possessions. She was interrogated daily and tortured for information about other hiding Jews, and was witness to many public hangings and executions. Eventually, Eva and Marta were forced onto a train and sent to Auschwitz, where they underwent selection and barely survived through gruelling winter months. The children saw brutal bashings, murder, theft and deception whilst at the camp, experiencing many things that no one should ever have to. When the notorious Dr Josef Mengele turned his attention to the sisters, thinking they were twins, they had to undergo several of his medical tests, and saw the results of some of his more depraved experiments. Their camp was liberated by the Soviet army in early 1945, and the girls, having survived the atrocities of Auschwitz, set out across war-torn Europe to try and find the rest of their family. Even after the war was over, they still faced anti-Semitism, although there were just as many kind people willing to help the two little malnourished and ill girls find their way back home. Never giving up hope that they would be reunited with their loved ones, the girls looked to the stars for guidance, knowing that their father would be gazing upon those same stars, and wishing for their safe return…
Over the years, I have read many Holocaust survival stories- not only do I find the victims’ stories inspirational, but the writing of such books can also provide a cathartic release for the person who went through such horrors (as well as an important testimony to the world about the suffering that was endured). Eva was extraordinarily lucky, considering that most of her immediate family were able to survive the war, but explained towards the end of her memoirs that none of her family was ever able to talk about what they had seen. They all kept their experiences and emotions bottled up inside, which made the once-tight family unit less so. The experiences that Eva and her family endured at the hands of the Nazis were traumatic, and words cannot express the unspeakable evil that they witnessed. But through this autobiography, Eva has managed to give readers a strong understanding of what occurred during her childhood, providing us with heartbreaking record of survival during one of the worst periods in human history.