A Mother, a Baby, a Name: Identifying One of the Youngest Survivors of the Holocaust

In five brief seconds at the end of a reel of U.S. Army Signal Corps footage, a mother shows off her baby.

Out of context, she might look like any new mother photographed with a newborn. With one hand holding a blanket away from the baby’s face, she smiles and appears to laugh with joy. As the woman turns away from the camera, we may notice that her hair looks as though it has been hacked at with a knife. A closer look in the corner of the frame reveals a figure in a medical gown who moves away, revealing a woman in a striped uniform cutting at the lining of a heavy jacket. The women were in Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria, and they had just been liberated five days earlier.

The happiness of the mother was not just that of any parent with a new child, but that of a woman who experienced the horror of the Holocaust and knew finally that she would be able to keep her tiny daughter safe. This single shot of a mother with her child is extraordinary because it appears at first glance like it could be utterly ordinary.

anka-stills
A series of stills from 111-ADC-4326, showing a mother with a newborn baby at Mauthausen concentration camp.

The National Archives holds tens of thousands of feet of footage shot after the United States Army liberated concentration camps at the end of World War II. The films serve as documentation of Nazi crimes, depicting piles of decomposing bodies, the haunted faces of emaciated survivors, and signs of torture, hunger, and disease.

The shot list that accompanies the film describes the scene as “woman with young baby.” We did not know anything else about the woman, what pain she might have suffered, or what might have happened to her after she and her baby were freed. That changed when we were contacted by Lindsay Zarwell, film archivist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Author Wendy Holden came across the Signal Corps footage when she was researching her book about three babies born at Mauthausen. Holden identified the woman and her baby as Anka Nathanová and her daughter Eva. When Zarwell learned of this, she asked the motion picture lab for a higher resolution scan to help strengthen the identification and provide additional documentation for the USHMM’s online catalog. We scanned the complete reel (111-ADC-4326) at 2K and provided stills for the identification. Zarwell compared the stills to photographs provided by Eva Clarke and was able to add a name to the record.

We now know a lot more about the unknown woman and her baby. On April 29, 1945, after three years in the Theresienstadt concentration camp ghetto, six months of slave labor in an armaments factory in Freiburg, Germany, and a 17 day train journey in an open coal car, Anka Nathanová arrived at the gates of Mauthausen. She gave birth to her daughter, Eva, on a cart there. Anka weighed less than 80 pounds and had managed to hide her pregnancy long enough to keep her and her unborn child safe from the Nazi gas chambers. The Americans arrived six days later, and an Army Signal Corps cameraman filmed the human wreckage as evidence of Nazi atrocities. He also filmed Anka with her new baby.

Stills from 111-ADC-4326, showing  the preparation of a mass grave, the gates of the the Mauthausen concentration camp after liberation, and women behind barbed wire.

Eva Clarke describes her mother as an eternal optimist, a person who, despite all evidence to the contrary, always thought that things would turn out all right. Knowing that helps explain the joy in the woman’s face despite her trauma.

Anka Nathanová did not know it yet, but returning home to Prague would open new wounds. In all, she lost 15 family members to the Holocaust, including her husband, who had been shot while on a death march. Anka remarried and made her way to Wales with her husband and child. Today, Anka’s daughter Eva Clarke speaks about the Holocaust around the United Kingdom for the Holocaust Educational Trust.

So much of what we encounter in the hours of footage of concentration camps is beyond understanding. The enormity of viewing so much death makes it hard to see a mass of bodies as individuals, each with their own story. Learning the identity of a woman and her baby is a reminder that a picture with context is worth more than a thousand words. The work of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, putting names and stories to the faces that flash by, reminds us of exactly who and what we lost in the genocide.

 

Sources and Further Reading:

-View the complete reel in our catalog. (This footage contains some graphic images.) Two other reels of Mauthausen footage have not been scanned, but are described in our catalog (111-ADC-4311, 111-ADC-4319).

-A video of Eva Clarke speaking for the Holocaust Educational Trust can be viewed here.

-Wendy Holden’s Born Survivors tells the story of three babies born at Mauthausen.

-The website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has incredible resources, including articles, film, and photographs.

5 thoughts on “A Mother, a Baby, a Name: Identifying One of the Youngest Survivors of the Holocaust

  1. What an amazing entry, you guys. And an incredible story of survival for Anka and Eva. Thanks for sharing, Audrey. I’m sure the original 35mm footage of Mauthausen was shot on nitrate stock (I see one slate say Lt. Dieves), so would this new scan have been made from the volatile nitrate stock or from a dupe neg that had been made at sometime on stable safety film? thanks, glenn

    1. Hi Glenn!

      The footage was definitely shot on nitrate stock, but this transfer was made from a duplicate negative on acetate stock. Our preservation element is an acetate finegrain positive that was likely made from the original nitrate negative. As a matter of policy, NARA does not retain nitrate film. You can learn more about the fire we suffered in 1978 in this blog post: https://unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov/2018/12/04/disaster-strikes-the-national-archives-the-1978-nitrate-vault-fire/

      For more on nitrate film and NARA’s research into safe storage, see this post: https://unwritten-record.blogs.archives.gov/2018/12/10/film-preservation-101-is-nitrate-film-really-dangerous/

  2. Thanks for posting this. The pictures of the full and well fed Nazi field marshal Kesselring with his grin are hard to bear when you know that this man wanted to fight to the last cartridge and never regretted his devotion to Hitler. He was responsible for the shooting of civilians in Italy and for the senseless deaths of countless soldiers under his command in the last weeks of the war. Some of the dead in the mass grave that appears in the film right after might have survived if there hadn’t been guys like Kesselring. In the end, German officers under his command managed to surrender against his will and orders. Sentenced to death in 1947, he was finally released in 1952 and was able to try to organise the surviving Nazis in West Germany for a few more years. An abominable person.

    1. I’d be interested in knowing more about why, if sentenced to death, Kesselring was released 5 years later.

  3. What a story!! So many emotions – both heartbreak at all she lost yet joy that she and her baby survived. I’m also always moved when names and stories are given to these unknown people in photographs and videos!

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