Evelina Merová – her life story

Evelina Merová, 1935, private archive of Evelina Merová

Evelina Merová, 1935, private archive of Evelina Merová

Evelina Merová was born on 25th December 1930 to an assimilated Jewish family of Ilse and Emil Landa (Father’s original surname being Löwy). She had a ten-year-older half-sister Lisa. The Landas lived in a modern three-bedroom apartment in Prague’s quarter Letná until 1939, when they had to move out. Father worked his way up to own a company which processed horsehair. Eva, as she was called in short, went to a Czech school and exercised in Sokol. However, the feeling of security, in which she grew up, began to shake with the events of 1938 when, following the annexation of Austria, the relatives of Landa family arrived in Prague among other Jewish refugees bringing along discussions about the war. The persecution of the Jews came in stages through various regulations and orders. The first painful moment for Eva came when she had to give away her canary Punťa. In summer 1940 she already was not allowed to attend Czech schools, nevertheless her father enrolled her in time in the only Prague’s Jewish school. After the classes children often played in the old Jewish cemetery or at the only sports ground where Jews were allowed, the Hagibor.

Eva with her parents, Prague 1937, private archive of Evelina Merová

Eva with her parents, Prague 1937, private archive of Evelina Merová

As the family of Landas were on the list of the deportees to Terezín as well, the whole family had to come to the gathering point at the Prague’s Veletržní Palace on 28th June 1942, and a few days later, on 2nd July, they were deported by transport AAl to the Terezín ghetto. In Terezín, Eva stayed with girls of her age in Kinderheim (children’s home) signed L 410 in room No. 28. “When I think of the really bad years of the war and the Holocaust, there is always a bright point, a beam of light, on my mind – our Heim in the ghetto, our room 28. I spent eighteen months in Terezín. It is not much in an adult’s life, but in the life of a child who is barely twelve it’s almost an eternity. In Terezín, I was deprived of my childhood. I became an adult. I began to think. I came to Terezín as a little eleven-year-old girl, but when leaving the ghetto in a December transport to Auschwitz, I felt almost an adult. The Heim helped me endure much hardship, however, only fifteen girls out of nearly sixty who then occupied room No. 28 were so fortunate. “In the Heim, she was taught drawing by Friedl Dicker- Brandejsová, a well-known painter who worked with children in the ghetto.

Picture of Cinderella drawn by Eva in the Terezin Ghetto, Jewish Museum in Prague, © Evelina Merová

Picture of Cinderella drawn by Eva in the Terezin Ghetto, Jewish Museum in Prague, © Evelina Merová

“She allowed us to play with colours, engage in a flight of fancy, abandon stereotypes – and inside, for a moment, the boundaries of the ghetto, too.” With 14 years of age, young people had to work in Terezín; Eva was assigned to work in horticulture, growing vegetables and fruits for the SS kitchen. This kind of work was very popular among the prisoners for fresh air and a chance, with a little courage and luck, to improve the poor Terezín diet. In December 1943 the Landas found themselves on the list of a transport to the East. Their unknown destination was the extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Alike the previous transport in September 1943, the prisoners did not have to go through the selection upon their arrival and were placed in the so-called Terezín family camp. The inmates from both above mentioned transports received an annotation in their personal records saying that after six months of quarantine so-called Sonderbehandlung shall be applied. It was the cover term used for murder, gasification, which was really carried out at the September transport in March 1944.

Eva and her mother were rescued from certain death in July 1944 after a selection found both of them capable of work. They gradually passed through Stutthof, Dörbeck and Guttau camps, where they had to dig anti-tank trenches. During this hard work Eva’s mother died. Eva’s clogs from Auschwitz fell apart, her feet suffered frostbites that eventually made her unable to walk. Therefore she did not join the death march, and in January 1945 she was liberated by the Soviet Army in the abandoned camp in Guttau.

Eva in 1948, private archive of Evelina Merová

Eva in 1948, private archive of Evelina Merová

On a Soviet ambulance train, she met a Jewish doctor Mojsej Ionovič Mer, who proposed to her, an orphan, an adoption. After a short hesitation, Eva agreed and began her new life in Leningrad in the Soviet Union. She was not allowed to speak about her past and all her efforts were focused on the study. After many twists and turns she finally graduated in German studies. She came to Czechoslovakia as late as in the 60s, after accepting the invitation of Erich Kulka and Otto Kraus, who had added her story in their book The Death Factory. On that occasion, she also met the girls she knew from Terezín. Since then she started coming to her former homeland regularly, almost every year, and in the ’90s she settled in Prague permanently. Yet, she often goes to visit her children and grandchildren to St. Petersburg and Frankfurt am Main, and she also devotes her time to discussions with students and adults sharing so her experience in both totalitarian regimes.

Pa

Resources:

Brenner-Wonschicková, Hannelore: Girls of Room 28. Friendship, Hope, and Survival in Theresienstadt, Brno 2007, p. 17.
Merová, Evelina: Opožděné vzpomínky. Životopis, který se nevešel na jednu stránku. (Late Memories. Biography which Exceeded one Page), p. 41.

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S příchodem nacistů se mé dětské mysli otevřely podivné obzory. Uvědomil jsem si, že nelze spontánně ctít starosty, radní, duchovní, soudce, učitele, různé přednosty, ale že si naši úctu musí zasloužit. Vždyť někteří z těch, které jsem míval v oblibě, zvedali pravici k poctě vůdce a později pilně vstupovali do komunistické strany. Začal jsem brzy lidi třídit. — Tom Luke, Kolektiv autorů: Pokoj 127, Domov mládeže Q708, Terezín, Gymnázium Plzeň a o.s. HUMR, 2007, s. 89.