Birthdate: 1 Jan 1920

Place: Rakovnik, Czechoslovakia

Hanka Svarc was born in Rakovnik near Prague, Czechoslovakia. Her parents owned and operated a retail business, her father having worked his way up from apprentice­ship. Hanka remembers the family as not being particularly religious but they did observe the Jewish holidays and calendar. Relations were good with the non-Jewish locals and at that time in her life as a young woman she did not feel or think of herself as different from her non-Jewish friends because of her religion. After junior school Hanka moved to Prague to study at a secretarial and business college.

When the Germans invaded in 1939 nothing was ever the same for her again. She re­members seeing the tanks roll in but not understanding the implications. Germany’s racial Nuremberg laws were soon applied to Czechoslovakia’s Jews. First it was a ban on radio sets, then on all Jewish businesses, and then on accommodation.

Hanka and her family were forced to move into an attic together with other Jewish families. Later they were forced to wear the Jewish star on their clothes. Hanka remembers vividly how ugly it felt to be singled out in that way. Eventually she was arrested and survived three and a half years in concentration camps, firstly at Theresienstadt, then Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen. 

When Hanka returned to Prague in 1945 she found that none of her immediate family was still alive. One person she knew before the war was George who had fled to Britain at the encouragement of his parents. There he joined the Free Czechoslovak Army under British command and fought in the war. Hanka and George were married in 1947, with only three cousins out of her entire family still alive and able to celebrate with them. They emigrated to New Zealand in January 1949.

(Videos used with kind permission from Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation. 38929-40. Interviewer: Mike Rathbone. 14 Dec 1997. Text assistance from the Wellington Holocaust Research & Education Centre.)

Camp At The Garrison Town Of Theresienstadt

Explore this theme further: Genocide & The Camps

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