Zdenka Fantlova - Part 2

18-12-2006

In last week's One on One, we heard the first part of an interview with Zdenka Fantlova in which she talked about her experiences in the Nazi concentration camps. In today's second part of the interview, Zdenka Fantlova, who lost all her family in the Holocaust, explains her belief that the power of love can overcome death. She begins by recalling how she and her fiancé were parted at the Terezin concentration camp in Bohemia.

"This was very strange because we arrived together at Terezin but soon after, on June 13, 1942, he was taken away by a so-called 'trestni transport' - how would you translate it - a 'punishment transport' to the east because of Heydrich, the assassination of Heydrich, and he left. I had no idea where he went, what happened to him. But he gave me a little ring, made of tin and said 'this is our engagement ring, it will protect you, and if we survive after the war, I'll find you', and he left.

"I had no idea what happened and hoped, of course. This ring was a symbol of the whole love, the hope and the strength. And that was going to be taken away from me. I put it on the line in Auschwitz. We were searched, went through a pile, like sheep, we couldn't have anything on us, rings, nothing. And I put it under my tongue. It was like a Russian roulette. Because a girl in front of me did the same thing and they found it. They took her away and she was a gonner.

"And I thought I am putting it all on the line. I cannot throw the ring away because in that case I will lose the ground under my feet. The strength that I need is in that ring. Fate intervened. The SS-man was looking through my hair and just then a higher charge came in and said 'hurry up, hurry up' and he kicked me out. I saved the ring and I have it to this day. That was the magic power. I am not religious. Someone else would say it was believing in God. It wasn't! It was the love! The determination that we must survive and I want to be with him again."

You also lost all your family in the war...

"Yes. One by one. Everybody. Father was arrested still at home because he was denounced by a neighbour - there were such people - for listening to the BBC and Jan Masaryk from London. So he was arrested and never seen again. My mother, on arrival in Auschwitz, she went left, I went right. My brother in the end, which I found out after the war, tried to escape from a camp somewhere in Silesia, he was caught and shot a few weeks before the end of the war and my younger sister who at that time was sixteen died in Bergen-Belsen. I couldn't save her. So one by one.

"In the end I was the only one. But the strange thing is if you fight for your life, you know, you are a lioness, because you have hope and love. After the war, when I was rescued and taken by the Swedish Red Cross to Sweden for recuperation, I was in hospital, there were lists coming in of survivors, and there was no one. Not one. And I realised for the first time where I had been, what I had survived.

"And what happens now? Now I am here, alone, naked, without means, without a home. I didn't want to live. Because then I found out that my fiancé who was taken in Terezin with the Straftransport, the punishment transport, they went straight to Poland to a place called Travniki. All of them lined up and machine-gunned. Of course, I didn't know this. Had I known it, I wouldn't be here today.

"So there was nobody. And yet you find strength in yourself to build up your life bit by bit, step by step, like a little floor with little pebbles, so you have a little bit of ground and you just go on. And then in Sweden, I was lucky to get a job at the Czechoslovak Embassy until 1948 when I decided to leave Europe and emigrated to Australia where I married, had a daughter, played theatre another twenty years and was even suggested for an Oscar, for a play by Tennessee Williams 'The Rose Tattoo'.

"And then, well, things always happen from outside. You don't make a decision that you will leave Australia and go live in England from Tuesday to Wednesday. Something happens outside which pushes you. My husband, who worked for a large international company was transferred to London for two years. After that they wanted him to stay there, and after two years became five and ten and I am still there after thirty-five. Happily. And my daughter in the meantime graduated in England, she has a PhD. in psychology and psycholinguistics and got an offer to join Yale University in the United States. She got married, works for IBM, has two daughters, and so life goes on."

Some people who have been through the Holocaust decided to close that chapter of their life completely and they never talk about it. How come you are so open about it?

"They haven't learnt a thing. You know, life is for going through it, experiencing it and learning from it. But it is, again, instinctive. I have learnt the lesson what actually matters, what values matter in life after this hell where we really were close to death every day. What matters? Not much. Life matters, human relationships matter and that's about it. The material things which I now have every day I accept but if I didn't have them, I wouldn't need them. So I have been enriched, not impoverished by it.

"And my own religion is that every night before I go to bed to sleep I thank the one up in the sky - God - I thank him for the day that he gave me and hope that he will give me another one. And he already gave me sixty-five years."

18-12-2006