By MICHELE HEWITSON



The blue towelling cape is a little faded now, the seams fragile with wear. It is showing its age. It's a humble sort of garment - it was made to be worn at the beach, over togs, for happy times - that has become a sort of symbol - for hope, resilience, and the kindness of strangers.



Because this cape was made for Eva Hayman in 1939, the year her parents decided that they would send Eva and her younger sister, Vera, out of German-occupied Czechoslovakia to the relative safety of Britain.



Hayman was one of the 600 Jewish children of Czechoslovakia who escaped the Nazis thanks to the Kindertransport movement. In all, about 10,000 of Europe's children were saved.

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She was 15 when she boarded what would be the second to last Kindertransport train out of the country. She left with sister Vera; a suitcase of new clothes, including that cape; a diary her father had given her; and with every hope that she would see her parents again.



Hayman, now 76, lives in an Auckland apartment overlooking the water. Her living room is brimming with photographs and flowers, full of the scent of sweet peas and of a history which she tells quietly, sometimes hesitantly.



Hesitantly because for almost four decades Hayman talked very little about her past. She wanted to protect her children. And she felt that there were many people with worse stories than hers.



She laughs now: "So, for somebody who has not spoken about it, I have done more than my share."



She has told her story before. In 1992 Hayman published By the Moon and the Stars, extracts from the diaries she kept for the six years she spent in Britain. Her father had asked her to keep a record. His last words to her were: "If the time ever comes when you cannot write to us, confide your thoughts and activities to a diary. And then, when all this is over we shall be able to read it together and your mother and I shall not be completely deprived of that part of your life."



Hayman made the last entry on July 27, 1945, the day she received a telegram which contradicted an earlier one telling her that her mother was alive. That second telegram read: "Read both telegrams. Your parents were gravely ill. There was no hope. Wait for further news." Hayman's mother had survived the liberation of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp but had died of typhus two days after the end of the war. All Hayman knows of her father's fate is that he was taken to Bleckhammer Camp in Silesia. He didn't survive it.



That part of her story has now been retold in a book and film made about the experiences of the Kindertransport children, Into the Arms of Strangers.



It is a lot of telling for a woman who closed her diaries in 1945 and did not reopen them for more than 40 years.



Hayman spent the war first at a boarding school in Bournemouth, then in Poole, where she trained as a nurse. "My experience of coming to England made me grateful for life," she writes, "but also guilty for being alive. Here I was alive, and my parents were dead. I didn't suffer, and they had suffered ... On the other hand, whether I wanted it or not, as a nurse I had a tool to help other people with a different kind of suffering. So I thought maybe there is a reason why I survived. I had to have a reason why I survived because I didn't want to have survived."



Her childhood, she says, ended the day she boarded that train. These were children who, she says, were "suddenly torn out of their parents' arms."





Hayman opted to return to Czechoslovakia after the war, where she found a job as an industrial nurse in Prague. Four months later she was asked, in one of those strange twists of post-war fate, to accompany 200 Czech children to England. They were being sent to recuperate in English homes, but first had to spend a month in a quarantine camp to make sure they had no infectious diseases. Hayman was to be their nurse. Once again, she went with a little suitcase for one month. But it soon became clear that the situation in Czechoslovakia was about to change once more. English friends began saying: "You have escaped one dictator, Hitler. Do you wish to live under another one, Stalin?"



Choosing to stay was, she says, "the second hard decision. The first one, of course, I did not make. It was made for me. But if I had made a lot of fuss they would not have sent me, I don't think."



Hayman reasoned that if she stayed in England, and nothing happened, she could always go back. "This one was my own decision to make and it was difficult to make because by then I was content at home - I couldn't say happy because I was forever aware of the emptiness."



She stayed on, married an English doctor and in 1957 they and their two children emigrated to New Zealand. Hayman jokes that they came for the fishing but, again, "it wasn't easy.



"Once we decided, I panicked like anything. It was another change, leaving everybody I knew, again."





A way of coping with the past was to not look back. She didn't open the diaries, she tried "for a long time not to be Jewish. Anything to do with being Jewish was far too painful, being Jewish meant suffering to me. But as you grow older you don't escape what you are."



She writes that, in the end, "one cannot escape one's past, it will not be abandoned. I never said goodbye to my homeland in 1946, thinking I would return. I never said goodbye to my parents in 1939, believing in our reunion."



She did so in 1978 when she finally returned to Czechoslovakia. That was the trip which led to opening the diaries: "I knew then that I had to relive the past again, to accept the past as part of my experience." To be worn, perhaps, like an old blue cloak.