“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”      Viktor Frankl

 May 2010 – Mauthausen, Austria: Hana Moran, Mark Olsky and Eva Clark met at the 65th anniversary of the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp. Each arrived believing they were the only baby to survive at Mauthausen. They would discover their stories were remarkably similar and that there were three babies born in the Nazi death camps who survived as World War II mercifully wound to an end.

In July 1944, three young Jewish women arrived by railcar at the Auschwitz concentration camp in southern Poland. Priska Lowenbeinova, Rachel Friedman and Anka Nathanova all had a secret. They were newly pregnant, alone, scared and without their husbands.

When women arrived at Auschwitz, they were stripped of their clothes, jewelry, hair and dignity. The camp doctor, Josef Mengele, inspected them as they stood naked, shivering and embarrassed on the open parade ground inside the camp fence. Known as the ‘Angel of Death,’ he decided who was assigned to work detail and who was sent to the gas chambers. Pregnant women were used for genetic testing or gassed.

As Mengele walked down the rows of women, he paused in front of Priska, a 28-year-old Czech teacher. “Hello, pretty lady, are you pregnant?” She looked him in the eyes and replied in German, “Nein.” Mengele passed by Rachel and Anka without stopping. All three women were deemed fit for work detail. They were given ill-fitting, mismatched clothing collected from the gas chambers.

Each morning, the women were marched to factories where they worked 12 hours with no breaks. The work varied from loading heavy materials, making chemicals, to building weapons or munitions. Each evening, they returned to a meal of watery soup with small pieces of bread, which amounted to a few hundred calories per day.

As the months dragged on, the three starving mothers’ baggy clothes and skeletal frames helped to conceal their secrets. When a female guard eventually discovered Priska’s pregnancy, Priska expected to be shot. Instead, the guard asked, “When are you due?” Priska responded, “Soon, very soon.” The guard protected her and brought her extra rations of food. On April 12, 1945, 70-pound Priska delivered Hana on a wooden plank in the sick bay. The baby weighed less than three pounds.

The following day, with the Allies closing in, the Nazis began evacuating the camp. Hundreds of prisoners were loaded on a train bound for Mauthausen. On the train were Priska, her newborn daughter, and Rachel and Anka, whose pregnancies had been discovered by guards who chose to look the other way. During the 17-day journey crisscrossing across Europe, hundreds of Jews died due to a lack of food and water.

On April 20, at the halfway point of the journey, Rachel gave birth to Mark in an open coal car while pelted by sleet and snow. Born on Adolf Hitler’s birthday, Mark, too, weighed less than three pounds.

On April 25, Train 90124 ended its interminable journey at the Mauthausen railway station. Minutes later, Anka, a 28-year-old law student, gave birth to 3-pound Eva. Too weak to walk, Anka delivered the baby while she lay on a cart with several dead women as she was pushed through the gate at Mauthausen.

Ten days later, on May 5, 1945, Allied troops arrived at Mauthausen and liberated the notorious death camp. Against all odds, the new mothers and their newborn babies had survived the brutality, cruelty and hopelessness of the camps. Helped by the kindness of guards and strangers, they had relentlessly held on to life.

After the war, Rachel, Priska and Anka returned home with their babies. Rachel died in 2003 at age 86 and is buried in a Jewish cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee. Priska died in Slovakia in 2006 at age 90. Anka died in Cambridge, England, in 2013 at 96. Their stories serve as a poignant reminder that even in the darkest hours, the slightest glimmer of hope can defy the most formidable odds.

Hundreds of babies were born in the Nazi concentration camps, but only three are known to have survived. Today, 78-year-old Eva Clark, a retired college administrator, lives in Cambridge. Hanna Berger Moran lives in Orinda, California, where she worked as a chemist for a biotech company. Dr. Mark Olsky is a retired physician living in Arizona. The three talk often and are like siblings. They devote much of their time to traveling and sharing their mother’s holocaust stories.