The Perse School

Holocaust survivor Zdenka Fantlova tells standing room only crowd ‘never feel like a victim’

4 Feb 2014

Pupils, staff and parents alike were delighted to welcome Zdenka Fantlova, Holocaust survivor and author of The Tin Ring, to The Perse yesterday. The 92-year old gave the School’s annual Josef Behrmann lecture to a packed theatre, telling the story of her life as a young girl in German concentration camps during the Second World War. It was a truly inspirational, powerful and emotional story of love and survival.

Following an idyllic childhood in the Czech Republic with her parents, sister and brother, her life was turned upside-down with the outbreak of World War Two and the subsequent German invasion of her homeland. The enforcement of the Nuremburg rules – the separation of the Jews from the Czechs – meant that she was required to wear a yellow star on her left side at all times. She saw Jewish businesses closed down and taken over by German officials, and as a young girl of 17, she was no longer allowed to attend school.  Her schooling taken away from her, she begged her father to allow her to go to Prague to learn English after hearing a Fred Astaire record. He relented, and she went away to study the language which was to later save her life.

Despite being taken to six different concentration camps throughout the war, she stayed strong – she accepted her fate and dealt with the situations with which she was confronted. She saw her father interrogated and removed by the SS, her mother taken to the gas chamber in one of the camps and her boyfriend, Arno, to a punishment camp.

Her harrowing story was counter-balanced with the love-story between herself and Arno, who gave her a tin engagement ring engraved with his name – a possession that came to symbolize hope and strength and confirmation that they would be together again one day, and one she still treasures to this day. She recounted being stripped of her possessions by a Nazi officer in one of the camps, hiding the ring in her mouth – she wanted to keep it, even if it cost her life, as it represented her bond with and her promise to Arno.

After several years in the camps, she was finally found by a British Army officer. Using the English she learned five years previously when in Prague, Zdenka pleaded with him to rescue her. He came back for her the next day and bundled her into the back of an ambulance, with nothing but her tin ring tied around her neck. Fifty years after the event, Zdenka decided to share her story with the world in her book, The Tin Ring.

Rather poignantly, Zdenka said that despite her difficult experiences, she has never felt like a victim, as “if you feel like a victim, you become one”.  She insightfully added that we must accept our fate and deal with it and adapt – that is how she coped with her experiences during the war. When a pupil asked what she now thinks of the Nazi regime and Germany’s actions during the war, she said it was as though it never happened – she could not believe that such an atrocity could have ever happened in the first place; the human race has to learn from its mistakes to make sure that it never happens again.

This was an absolutely fantastic talk from a truly courageous and inspirational woman, whose story will undoubtedly have touched all who listened attentively to her every word.

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