The Story of Alice Svarin 1921-2013
Vera’s mother, Alice Svarin, was born in central Slovakia. After a peaceful 18 years in a traditionally Jewish family, in 1941 she married a local admirer. The marriage unwittingly saved her from being sent to Auschwitz as one of the 1000 single women deported there from Slovakia. Her father was deported and murdered at the beginning of the war; her sister lived under a false name until Autumn 1944 when she was murdered in Auschwitz. Alice’s mother survived the war in Budapest under a false identity.
Having avoided the initial deportation, Alice and her husband continued in their home in the Nazi-occupied fascist Slovak state until August 1944, when the German army entered Slovakia. The few remaining Jews went into hiding in the mountains. This period – August 1944 to March 1945 – forms the main part of Alice’s testimony for Stephen Spielberg’s Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.
After the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia in August 1968, Vera and her sister left for the West; and, newly widowed, in 1975 Alice joined them in London. At the age of 54 she had to learn a new language and a new way of life.
Vera’s presentation follows Alice’s testimony in describing the family’s fate and how, without help from some local people risking their own lives, none of them would have survived. Vera stresses the role of luck in trusting people, who could be perpetrators or rescuers. The presentation includes photographs, maps and video clips of Alice telling the stories joined by a narrative by Vera.
Although the story deals with the lives of Jews under Nazi occupation, it does not contain descriptions of the horrors of the concentration camps. It is ultimately an optimistic story of a courageous no-nonsense woman who was able to adapt to changing circumstances.
Presented by Vera Bernstein
Vera Bernstein is the elder child of Holocaust survivors from Slovakia, who was born after World War Two in communist Czechoslovakia. She grew up listening to her mother’s Holocaust story and the stories of other survivors.
Following the Soviet invasion of her country in August 1968 she decided, with the encouragement of her parents, not to return from a working holiday in the UK. She first worked in a precious metal refinery, studied chemistry and later psychology and business. Later, in order to combine work with family life, she worked in a range of occupations, including market research and administration. With the opening of Eastern Europe in the late 1980s, Vera started freelance translating and interpreting in a variety of subjects. She volunteers for her synagogue and participates in the community’s activities.
In honouring her mother’s memories she tries to combat the myth of Holocaust deniers and to enable people to learn lessons from history.