Surviving Auschwitz, the Angel of Death and death march: Eva Erben’s untold Holocaust story

For over 40 years, Holocaust survivor Eva Erben has refused to tell her story. But today, with the rise of anti-semitism and Holocaust denial, she shares her story.

Eva Erben’s life is one of the few Holocaust survival stories that had a happy ending. Born in Czechoslovakia, Eva was first taken to Terezin, and then survived Auschwitz-Birkenau, Gross Rosen, and the Death March at the end of the war. During the march, she collapsed along the way and was left for dead, until a local farmer found her and took care of her.

To understand Eva’s story better, it’s also important to understand the context of The Holocaust.

During the Second World War, the government of Nazi Germany killed approximately 17 million people across Europe in half a dozen camps specifically designated for killings. Holocaust victims were people who were targeted by the government of Nazi Germany for various discriminatory practices due to their ethnicity, religion, political beliefs, or sexual orientation. 

Rows of bodies at Nazi-German Belsen Concentration Camp on April 15, 1945. They were among thousands of corpses that lay unburied on the campgrounds when the camp was liberated by British Army, World.

These institutionalised practices came to be called The Holocaust, and they began with legalised social discrimination against specific groups, and involuntary hospitalisation, euthanasia, and forced sterilisation of those considered physically or mentally unfit for society.

Communal grave for victims of the Nazi-German Belsen Concentration Camp, April 1945. In the weeks before it's liberation, weakened prisoners died by the hundreds daily from typhus, typhoid and dysentery.

These practices escalated during the World War II to include non-judicial incarceration, confiscation of property, forced labour, sexual slavery, medical experimentation, and death through overwork, undernourishment, and execution through a variety of methods, with the genocide of different groups as the primary goal.

Russian, Polish, and Dutch slave labourers at Buchenwald concentration camp. April 16, 1945.

YourStory Media Founder and CEO Shradha Sharma recently caught up with the 89-year-old holocaust survivor on YourStory Inspirations series to talk about her incredible and moving journey. Eva shares the tale of her as a young girl struggling to cope with the fear and danger that becomes part of her world. Her experiences of the Holocaust is a poignant and moving story, as well as a critical historical record. 

Watch the full conversation on YourStory Inspirations series here:

Auschwitz and the Angel of Death

“It was an unbelievable shock when our train pulled into Auschwitz. It was hard to imagine that such a place existed on earth. The smell, the shouting, and the barking were all very overwhelming. We saw the smoke from a building chimney and thought it was a factory and not the gas chamber that it really was. Then they took everything we had on us, and even shaved our heads.” adds Eva, talking about how they were counted and segregated for Dr Mengele, or the Angel of Death, who is mainly remembered for his actions at the Auschwitz concentration camp, where he performed deadly experiments on prisoners. He was also a member of the team of doctors, who selected victims to be killed in the gas chambers and was one of the doctors who administered the gas. 

Two young children who starved to death in the Nazi German Belsen Concentration Camp. April 1945, World War II.

The Death March

Death marches or the forcible movement of prisoners by Nazi Germany toward the end of World War II and The Holocaust saw hundreds of thousands of prisoners, mostly Jews, from German concentration camps near the eastern front moved to camps inside Germany, away from Allied forces. 

Thousands of gold wedding rings removed from victims of the Nazi German concentration camps. U.S. troops found jewellery and gold fillings, near Buchenwald concentration camp. May 5, 1945.

Eva, along with her fellow prisoners, was hurriedly evacuated by the SS and taken on a 500-kilometre march, walking 30 to 40 kilometres a day through Poland in the snow and cold. Her mother died on the way, leaving Eva alone in the world, but miraculously, Eva managed to escape her captors and was found and then hidden by a Czech family until the war ended.

Live and let live

Today, 89-year-old Eva has three children, nine grandchildren, and eleven great-grandchildren. However, she is especially distraught about the recent rise in anti-semitism “I also don’t like everybody who is Jewish. But I don’t kill them. Let live. Let people live the way they want to,” says Eva.

Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta


Updates from around the world