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A Reading of "Born in a Concentration Camp" at the ITS

The authors Eva Gruberová and Helmut Zeller.

"I will bring you home," said Miriam Rosenthal daily to the baby growing inside her womb. A pregnancy in a concentration camp for Jewish prisoners usually meant a death sentence. But seven women, in the midst of the destruction of life, brought seven children into the world. This unusual story in the book "Born in a Concentration Camp, tells of seven mothers, seven children, and the miracle of Kaufering I." On the recent occasion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the authors Eva Gruberová and Helmut Zeller at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen, read some excerpts.

About 70 guests attended the event that the ITS presented in collaboration with the association "Flashback - Against Oblivion" in Volkmarsen, and as part of the program for the exhibition "Legalized Robbery" in Wolfhagen. Eyewitness Marika Novakova, one of the children born in the camp, was unable to attend because she had fallen upon her arrival. "We hope for her speedy recovery and wish her all the best from a distance," said ITS Director Professor Rebecca Boehling in her welcoming remarks to the guests.

Filled with emotion and authenticity, the authors read some passages from the book and explained the historical background. The focus of their narratives are the two women Miriam Rosenthal and Eva Schwartz who could still personally  tell their stories to the authors. In mid-1944, after the German invasion of Hungary, they had been deported to Auschwitz and ultimately to Kaufering. For months the women tried to hide their pregnancy and remain alive in spite of the famine and forced labor. "Among the prisoners, the news of the birth of the babies was a sensation and a sign of hope," says author Gruberová.

The Hungarian Jewish women were ultimately rescued from certain death by the approaching end of the war. The road back to Auschwitz was no longer possible after the discovery of the pregnancy, as the gas chambers were already destroyed because of the advancing Red Army. At the same time, the camp director of the Dachau sub-camps Kaufering I, SS officer George Deffner,  hoped to receive a less severe punishment by the anticipated Allied military courts if he spared the young mothers. "On the occasion of the Dachau trials in 1947, he sent his wife with a prepared statement to the women," recounts author Zeller. One of the seven mothers signed the paper. Although about half of the prisoners in Kaufering I died because of the inhumane conditions in the camp, Deffner was only sentenced to three years in prison.

For their research, the two authors have scoured numerous archives and conducted eyewitness interviews. "The documents of the ITS helped us reconstruct the story of the seven women," says Gruberová. The results of their research were included in an documentary film with the same title and an exhibition at the memorial site. Unlike other accounts of war stories, this book also describes the lives of the women and children in the postwar period. "To this day, the children are in contact with each other," knows Gruberová. As to the mothers, Miriam Rosenthal is the only one still alive. "She lives in Toronto, Canada, and now has twelve great-grandchildren."