Lighthouse Theatre, Poole, Saturday 7th June, 2014
Zdenka Fantlova’s extraordinary story of survival against all odds in the Nazi death camps of World War II is an inspiring tale of the strength of human spirit in the face of brutality and blind prejudice.
Simply because she was born a Jew, Zdenka was herded aboard cattle trucks, packed onto goods trains and marched hundreds of kilometres to no fewer than six concentration camps. She endured unspeakable conditions for five long years.
Yet instead of descending into bitterness, this remarkable woman, now 92-years-old, says that love and an unwavering sense of hope for the future kept her alive. That and a refusal to accept herself as a victim.
Through her years as a prisoner Zdenka focused on a simple tin ring that had been made for her by her fiancé Arno. He had told her: “That’s for our engagement. And to keep you safe. If we are both alive when the war ends I will find you”.
Arno didn’t make it but Zdenka, who didn't discover that he had been shot by a Nazi death squad until after the war, never lost the will to survive. The story of how she was torn from a loving family in Czechoslovakia and lost not only Arno but her father, mother, sister and brother is told in her book called what else? The Tin Ring. It has now been turned into a play and there are talks about making a Hollywood movie too.
Zdenka is currently out on the road telling her almost unbelievable tale, signing books and trying to ensure that people never again allow the kind of depravity preached by the Nazi regime to gain a foothold. At Poole on Saturday she spoke movingly and with a refreshing lack of sentiment about how her ordinary, comfortable, middle-class life had been so suddenly and brutally turned into a living hell by the German invasion.
She was just 18-years-old when she was transported first to Terazin and then to the dreaded Auschwitz. Somehow dodging the gas chambers, she was sent to the hard labour camp in Kurzbach, forced to make a 400 kilometre death march to Gross Rosen and sent on to Mauthausen before arriving, more dead than alive, at Bergen-Belsen.
It was there in April 1945 that she literally dragged herself through the corpses to the Red Cross station of the liberating British Army. Starved, racked with typhoid and wearing the only clothes she had - a filthy green ball-gown crawling with lice - she found a saviour in the form of young military medic. Under strict orders to methodically work his way through the tens of thousands of dead and dying, he should have ignored her but he smuggled her aboard an Army ambulance
Zdenka never got the chance to thank him. It is fascxinating that she can talk in a remarkably detached way about the brutality of the camps and the death of her entire family - she admits that it feels as though it happened to someone else. But the fact that, after years of trying to track him down, she is still no closer to identifying the soldier who saved her life, still reduces her to tears. It is to that unknown soldier that the Tin Ring is dedicated.