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Kraus, Clara (1914–2010)

by Margaret Brown

Giving birth in a Nazi forced labour camp was one thing but slipping out through the wire, with two infant children, in April 1945 made Clara Kraus's survival extraordinary. She had survived the bombing of her home in Belgrade in 1941 and been captured by the Germans.

After her escape, just ahead of the SS, she and her children had to survive a cross-country trek to her home in Budapest, also occupied by Germany, to see out the end of the war. It was a bonus that her husband, Emery, who had been taken to the notorious Mauthausen concentration camp, also survived.

Clara Elfer was born in Budapest on January 14, 1914, daughter of Odon Elfer, an executive in the Hungarian railway system, and Hermine (nee Weisz). She went to school in Budapest and matriculated but because of her Jewishness, was denied a place at university.

She trained as a dressmaker and excelled, despite not particularly liking it. She met salesman Emery Kraus and they married in April 1935.

As war clouds gathered and Hitler's anti-Semitism became more blatant, Emery and Clara applied to migrate to the US.

The US consul promised to get back to them but never did. They thought their main handicap was that they did not have enough money. The family moved to Belgrade, where Emery ran his chemicals distribution business, but in April 1941 the Germans bombed the city.

The couple moved to Budapest then, in 1943, to Subotica in Yugoslavia, where Emery worked for his uncle in his cement products factory. There, the Germans caught up with them and Emery was taken away for forced labour.

Clara and her son Peter were put into a ghetto and in July 1944, when Clara was again pregnant, she and Peter were put onto a train "for the east", which she later discovered was code for a destination at Auschwitz concentration camp.

The train could not get to Auschwitz because the Allies had bombed the railway line. Clara and Peter were sent to a forced labour camp at St Polten-Viehhofen in Austria, where her second child, Paul, was born.

After the birth, through a mystical experience in her cell, Kraus decided to become a Christian. That might indeed have helped her but to have survived with two small children in those conditions was an amazing feat of motherhood.

In early 1945, Emery, not having any idea about where his family was or whether they had survived, was sent to Mauthausen concentration camp. At Polten-Viehhofen, with the war virtually lost and the SS assigned to clear up evidence that there had ever been concentration camps, things looked very serious. On May 1, 1945, the Austrians guarding the camp deserted.

Knowing the SS were coming, Kraus made her escape, along with her children, her cousin, aunt and uncle.

They were picked up by a Russian convoy and dropped at a railway station.

That same month at Mauthausen, American troops moved in to liberate the inmates and found Emery unconscious and barely alive.

He spent weeks in an American hospital then went searching for his family in Subotica. In one of the most delightful moments of his life, he discovered his wife had survived and his two sons, one whom he was seeing for the first time.

In 1948, the family, wanting to turn their backs forever on Europe, migrated to Australia and, after a hellish voyage on a decrepit Greek ship, SS Derna, arrived in Victoria on Melbourne Cup Day 1948.

They immediately took a train to Sydney and rented a house in Chatswood. While Emery, who had anglicised his name to Jim, worked at nondescript jobs, including making raincoats at Artarmon, Clara set up a dressmaking salon in Chatswood and for a time was the main breadwinner. Emery eventually set up a chemical business, which became Semper-Seal Chemicals and produced a popular rust-proofing product.

Son Paul said: "They loved their adopted land and made a strong contribution to it." But the scars of the wartime experience remained.

The family gradually became Anglican churchgoers, enduring scorn from some for leaving Judaism. Emery died of prostate cancer in 1977.

Kraus saw both her sons graduate from university. Paul became a high school history teacher and educational author and Peter an obstetrician.

Clara Kraus is survived by Peter and Paul, daughters-in-law Sue and Heather, five grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 February 2011

Citation details

Margaret Brown, 'Kraus, Clara (1914–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/kraus-clara-16841/text28737, accessed 19 September 2017.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2017

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Elfer, Clara
Birth

14 January 1914
Budapest, Hungary

Death

November 2010
New South Wales, Australia

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Passenger Ship
Occupation