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From hell to safe harbour for Eva and Ibi


The Australian April 11 2015

By: Ean Higgins

Holocaust survivors Eva Grinston and Ibi Wertheim aboard the Volendam in 1950 bound for A

Holocaust survivors Eva Grinston and Ibi Wertheim aboard the Volendam in 1950 bound for Australia. Source: News Corp Australia

For Eva Grinston, the Holocaust ended just on dawn on April 30, 1945, when a fine young Russian soldier appeared at the bunk where the desperately weak teenager lay at the Ravensbruck concentration camp north of Berlin.

He was an advance scout sent to see who was alive.

“May God bless him, he was ­indeed a single man entering the gates of hell,” Eva told The Weekend Australian.

The Germans had left, fleeing the advancing Red Army, taking most of the prisoners with them on a death march, but Eva had been too ill with typhoid.

Ravensbruck was the second concentration camp that Eva had survived; the first was Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland, where she was first taken with her mother and sister. They were separated into a different line on arrival. She never saw them again.

Eva’s close friend of more than 65 years, Ibi Wertheim, also survived Auschwitz, but her parents did not make it through the Holocaust.

On Wednesday, Eva, 86, and Ibi, 87, and their stories will feature at a commemoration in Sydney of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust.

Keynote speaker will be Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who represented Australia at the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, where many of his forebears died.

“I will be recounting the scale of the atrocity that is the Holocaust,” Mr Frydenberg said.

“Secondly, I’ll be recounting my visit to Auschwitz and the ­effect it had on me. Thirdly, I’ll be saying how we must preserve the memory of the dead to make sure the world does not repeat the ­mistakes of the past.”

The story of Eva and Ibi involves a great deal of horror, guilt over surviving what their relatives did not, and grief. But, the way they tell it, it’s more an uplifting narrative of ­renewal and triumph in a new land.

When the pair returned to their home where they became friends — the sophisticated, multicultural city of Bratislava in what is now Slovakia — the ­Soviets who had liberated them re-emerged as oppressors in the ­nascent Cold War.

The young women decided to leave for Australia, and after the tricky business of obtaining exit visas they travelled to The Netherlands, where they boarded the Volendam. “It was a real rust-bucket, but we enjoyed the journey just the same,” Eva said.

The Volendam was so decrepit that it got only as far as Melbourne, where its engines gave out, and Eva and Ibi boarded an overnight train to Sydney, arriving early in the morning of Australia Day 1950.

From there, theirs was a classic story of millions of post-war European migrants, working hard — Eva as a “finisher” in a garments factory and Ibi as a milliner — and saving up.

To this day, Eva says, she ­remains “very, very grateful” to Australia for taking in her and her friend, giving them happy marriages, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, as well as a life free of fear in a democracy.

On each Australia Day, Eva makes a pilgrimage to see Sydney’s Harbour Bridge, spanning a harbour so stunning that she “thought it was paradise” when she first laid eyes on it 65 years ago. “I go to that bridge every year and say thank you.”

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