Zdenka Fantlova, who had been a prisoner at Belsen, met for the first time George Leonard, a British soldier who had been among those liberating the concentration camp seven decades ago. Photo BBC.
An Incredible Survival Story
The Tin Ring
Somehow, the remarkable Zdenka defied all the odds, all the horrors of the Holocaust Concentration camps, and somehow survived.
Somehow, she retained and has never been separated from the tin ring which Arno, the boy she loved, had secretly passed to her in the camp.
And, somehow, this troth serves as a repudiation of the visceral hatred and violence represented by Auschwitz, Treblinka, Bergen Belsen and all the other monstrous Nazi extermination centres.
Zdenka Fantlová’s childhood in Czechoslovakia was one of great happiness and love and her life was like that of any other teenager. However, her peaceful existence was soon to be shattered and she was sent to Terezín concentration camp. Here she was given a home-made tin ring by her first love Arno with ‘Arno 13.6.1942’ engraved on it. When he gave her the ring he said, ‘That’s for our engagement. And to keep you safe. If we are both alive when the war ends I will find you’. Arno was sent East on a penal transport later that same day; she never saw him again. After surviving six concentration camps, risking her life for the tin ring and death marches Zdenka found herself, in the last chaotic days of the war, at the hell that was Bergen Belsen.
Zdenka is one of the few living eye-witnesses to the horror of the Holocaust. She survived six concentration camps, lost her entire family and endured unimaginable horrors.
When she was just 17-years-old a simple tin ring made for her by her boyfriend became central to her will to live, until he was selected for one of the early trains “to the east.’’ Though her boyfriend died, Zdenka clung to the simple tin ring as a symbol of hope. Her tin ring that she risked everything to keep through all the horrors till liberation, until she was surrounded by the dead and dying and close to becoming one of them herself.
“Then, everyone was on his own,’’ she says. “What most people are interested in [now] is the art of survival, and there is a secret to it. . . . I was 17, I was young, healthy, I was single, I was in love – and that is a tremendous power. To be in love and to have hope was something that gives you strength.
“It’s actually quite simple. Most people who came in felt like a victim. If you feel like a victim you become one. It takes a lot of energy out of you. You are afraid, you worry about what’s going to happen,’’ she says. “I never felt like a victim. I actually felt as though it has nothing to do with me. I was an observer looking out at the barbed wire, the guards, and the dogs. And if you don’t feel like a victim you have a chance.’’
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