The Survivor Part 1

During World War II, Hitler’s army ordered a young Jewish girl named Ilse Eichner Reiner to the Terezin concentration camp near Prague before transferring her to Auschwitz Birkenau. Of the 15,000 children sent to Terezin, Reiner is one of only 132 known to have survived. Today, Reiner lives in Sandy Springs near her daughter. This is her journey.

Ilse Eichner Reiner surrounds herself with flowers. Yellow carnations, pink lilies, peach roses fill her kitchen, her living room, her study. The 83 year old grandmother has rendered countless paintings of flowers in acrylics, every petal awash in vivid co ugg uk lors. She has hung dozens of them on her walls. They remind her of the fields in Czechoslovakia where she played as a child and picked flowers for her mother on holidays. Ilse Eichner smil ugg uk ed at her mother, Charlotte, as she hung sheets on a clothesline.

Ilse closed her eyes, inhaled the scent of freshly cut grass and honeysuckle in the soft breeze and thought about how well she would sleep in those sun dried sheets.

But a sharp cry from her mother jolted Ilse from her daydream. When she opene ugg uk d her eyes she saw two men in suits and fedoras approaching. They flipped over their lapels to flash swastikas at the Jewish mother and child, and Ilse’s mom turned pale.

Ilse’s small town in Czechoslovakia along with the entire country and beyond had been taken over by Nazis.

She considered reading her book, but couldn’t focus, so she looked out at a countryside now under Nazi control. Despite the darkness that lay over the land, she couldn’t help noticing the fields were dotted with daisies, buttercups and her favorite crimson poppies.

Ilse had lived with a family friend after her mother was taken away. But by order of a German court, she was now on her way to a Jewish orphanage, 170 miles away. Ilse took only what few items she could carry on the train, but her memories were many. She could still feel her mother’s presence, and she remembered her mother’s words: “Be strong.” “Hold onto hope.” “Keep your cheerful disposition.” They were words that would give her strength when she needed it most.

Although she was at the mercy of others, Ilse was not without fortitude. She decided to give herself a nickname that would remind her of her mother and their life together.

She settled on a name that would carry her into a place where people were identified by numbers, not names.

From now on, she decided, she would be known as “Miluska.” It means “to be loved by someone.”
ugg uk

That ability to find daylight in darkness would help Ilse survive and ultimately define her life.

The conductor walked into her car and announced they would arrive in Prague in 30 minutes. Her body stiffened. Ilse combed her hair, grabbed her suitcases and took a deep breath.

2. Dear diary

At the Jewish orphanage in Prague, Ilse did what many 11 year old girls do: She started writing in a diary about her daily life the meals served, games played, friendships formed. Housed in an 1800s era building on a street lined with rose bushes, the orphanage didn’t feel like a stony institution. It was a place where children read in the courtyard, exercised in a gym, played instruments in music rooms. They went to school, voted for class president. Ilse adorned the drab brown cover of her diary with red and violet flowers and a curvy border.

In one entry she wrote about having to wear a Star of David identifying her as Jewish. She confided that she secretly removed it to enter a store that barred Jews so she could buy ice cream for herself and other children.

“Yes,” she told her diary. “I took my chances, more than once.”

Time after time, she seized on the good and found ways to lift her spirits.

June 17, 1942

We aired out our bedding in the morning and after breakfast, cleaned up the dining hall. Then we had to concentrate on our homework. Prior to noon time, we had to hurry and set the tables. We had soup and big dumplings with a tomato sauce. We kept laughing the entire afternoon, aggravating the teachersThen Lana and I went to wash our socks. With luck, we had warm water, so we were also able to take a bath. I was telling jokes and kidding around and both of us kept laughing. Finally we said goodnight and went to sleep.

But memories of her mother were never far away. One day she received a postcard from a relative that showed the house where she lived with her mother, and she was reminded of their happy life. She recalled how the two of them hiked in the meadows collecting pine cones in the winter and berries in the summer. She remembered her birthdays when her mother would fill up a miniature tea set with hot chocolate.

And she remembered when it all changed. It was March 1939 when the Germans arrived in her hometown of Vsetin. She recalled the red flags with swastikas draped from their car windows and how they goosestepped to the town square. Ilse and her parents were fingerprinted and forced to live in the attic of their villa while Germans took control of their house. A couple days later, the Gestapo took Ilse’s father, Max Eichner, into custody. He was released about six weeks later, but because Ilse’s parents were in the process of divorcing, he went to live with a brother after his release.

Ilse and her mother moved to the nearby village of Ruzdka and rented a one room apartment. Ilse continued to go to school until the day she received a report card stamped “Israelite,” and she was no longer permitted to attend. Her piano teacher told her she could no longer give her lessons.

The Survivalists Next Door

On a chilly December morning, the Southwick clan is enjoying a lazy Sunday at their house in suburban Salt Lake. Kara, a no nonsense mother of six, is about to start cooking dinner spaghetti and meatballs when she realizes she’s missing a key ingredient. “Hey, Braxton?” she calls to her husband. “Could you bring me two cans of tomato sauce?”

“Time for a trip to the food store!” Braxton Southwick, 41, says cheerily as he bounds down the stairs to the pantry. He flicks on a light, illuminating what must be the biggest stash of nonperishables in all of West Jordan, Utah: thousands of cans of peaches, corn, and soup; shelves of industrial size bags of sugar; an army’s worth of Maruchan ramen. And that’s just the beginning. Stored in other parts of the property are 4,000 liters of water, 1,000 pounds of coal, 14 guns, and 12,000 rounds of ammunition each a crucial piece in the Southwicks’ all encompassing plan to survive the end of the world. Not to mention the eight chickens in the backyard. “The great thing about chickens in a doomsday scenario is they’ll eat anything,” Braxton says, smiling. “Which makes them ideal for a prepper.”

Maybe you’ve heard of preppers. Over the past few years, spurred by fears of environmental catastrophe, economic collapse, terrorism, and maybe just a smidge of anti government paranoia, a growing number of Americans 3 million, by one estimate have started preparing for the apocalypse. They stockpile food, load up on semiautomatics, pack so called “bugout bags” for when the shit hits the fan (or “wtshtf,” in the parlance). They’ve given birth to a multibillion dollar industry, spanning books, DVDs, survival gear, conventions, even ancillary industries like solar generator design and bunker construction. And lately, it’s gone mainstream enough to make it to prime time.

The Southwicks are one of dozens of families featured on the second season of ‘Doomsday Preppers,’ airing now on National Geographic Channel. The most popular of several such programs that cropped up in the past year (Discovery Channel’s ‘Doomsday Bunkers,’ Destination America’s ‘Armageddon Arsenals,’ Animal Planet’s ‘Meet the Preppers’), it’s the biggest show in NatGeo history;

1.3 million people watched the season two premiere. Southwick is one of ugg uk its breakout stars: young, nice looking, and relatively sane at least more so than lots of other people on the show, like the hefty Tennesseean known as Big Al, who lives for three months a year in his 2,000 square foot underground house, subsisting on something he calls “bunker stew.” “I’m not allowed to call them ‘crazy,'” Southwick says. “But they are.”

Southwick is a former race truck driver who works as a mechanic. He loves speedboats, four wheelers, and motorcycles. “I’m just a regular ol’ Joe,” he says, in a voice that sounds vaguely like Owen Wilson’s. Still, get him going on the subject of disast ugg uk ers and he can talk literally for hours all the time acutely self aware of how ridiculous he might sound. A lifelong Mormon, he believes in the End of Days. But it wasn’t until 9/11 that he got serious about prepping. Now, he has a plan for any disaster imaginable: an eruption of th ugg uk e Yellowstone supervolcano, an earthquake on Salt Lake’s Wasatch Fault, the breakdown of the federal monetary system, even another Katrina. (Sure, Utah is landlocked but you never know.)

But his biggest worry is a biological attack. In Southwick’s nightmare scenario, terrorists unleash a deadly strain of weapons grade smallpox on Salt Lake. “It’s clear. Odorless. Tasteless,” he says. “It has a 100 percent fatality rate, and there is no cure. All you have to do is pour a jarful on the sidewalk, and within a week, it’s been passed to 2 million people.”

Southwick climbs into his Dodge Ram pickup. He’s taking me to the cabin where the family plans to “bug out” in case of attack. If he suspects one has gone down, the first thing he’ll do is text Kara and the kids, ages 13 through 21. “If they get 9 1 1 three times, they know to come home immediately,” he says. (In case phone lines are down, they also have walkie talkies.) Wearing gas masks, the clan will grab their guns and start loading their caravan: son Treston in the back; Braxton in the middle, towing an RV; son Braxton Jr. up front, driving Braxton’s old racing truck, in case they need to ram through roadblocks. “It sounds crazy, doesn’t it?” he says, shaking his head.

After about an hour and a half, we come to a little town called Fairview. We drive past a locked gate and up a winding, unpaved road. The air is crisp and piney; the view is breathtaking. As we walk around their five acre plot, Southwick points out everything he hopes to get in place before they have to bug out: vegetable garden, goat and pig pens, salt licks for the deer they plan to hunt, WWII era military crank phone, lookout nest. He talks about exit routes and perimeter breaches, and utters the phrase “marauding gangs” several times. He raps his knuckles on the cabin. “These are all real logs. They’ll take a round.” He pauses, then gets a sheepish look. “Sounds crazy, huh?”

Members of the doomsday community don’t like to be called survivalists. It conjures conspiracy theorists, militias, Ted Kaczynski holed up in Montana. “Prepper” just sounds better sensible (who wouldn’t want to be prepared?), even upbeat. Still, for all his worrying, Southwick doesn’t seem that crazy, or e ugg uk ven especially paranoid more like an anxious dude who loves his kids and wants to do whatever he can to protect them.

“Everything we do is practical,” Southwick says. “I use all the fuel I store outside. We enjoy the cabin all summer. We’re preppers through and through, but I still love to have fun, and I want my kids to do the same. I’m not a guy hiding up in the woods, scared that the government is watching me.” And on that possibly not so remote chance that something catastrophic actually happens? “You’ve gotta listen to the crazies. They know what they’re talking about.”