Erika (Neuman) Eckstut was born in Znojmo, Czechoslovakia, on June 12, 1928, the younger of two girls. Her father, Ephram Neuman, was a respected attorney and an ardent Zionist who hoped to immigrate to Palestine with his family. Her mother, Dolly (Geller) Neuman, held a degree in business and worked in a bank before the birth of her children.
When Erika was a young girl, the Neumans moved to Stănești, a town in the province of Bukovina, Romania, where Erika’s paternal grandparents lived. Erika attended public school as well as the Hebrew school her father helped found. She loved to play with her sister, Beatrice, and especially enjoyed being with her grandfather.
In 1937, the fascist Iron Guard tried to remove Erika’s father from his position as the chief civil official in Stănești. Eventually, a court cleared him of the fabricated charges and he was restored to his post. In 1940, the Soviet Union annexed the area of Romania where the Neumans lived, but one year later, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Romanian troops drove the Soviets from Stănești. Romanian soldiers and civilians carried out bloody attacks on the town’s Jews.
In the fall of 1941, the Neumans were forced to settle in the Czernowitz ghetto, where living conditions were poor and they faced constant fear of deportation to Transnistria, a large swampy region of open air ghettos and camps in Romanian-occupied Ukraine. In 1943, Erika and Beatrice escaped from the ghetto on false papers that their father had obtained through the help of a local priest.
Using the false papers and posing as Christians, Erika and Beatrice fled to Kiev, a city in Soviet Ukraine which had just been freed from German occupation. Beatrice obtained work in a hospital and Erika assisted at times. Toward the end of the war, a nurse at the hospital mistook Beatrice for a German spy and, fearing for their safety, Erika and Beatrice decided to return to Czechoslovakia.
While traveling through the Soviet Union and Poland, still using false papers identifying them as Christians, Beatrice was again mistaken for a German by a group of Russian soldiers and narrowly escaped arrest. Erika and Beatrice reached Prague and were eventually reunited with their parents, who had managed to escape Czernowitz and survive the war in Bucharest, Romania. Erika’s father died from natural causes a few years after the end of the war.
On August 28, 1945, Erika married Robert Kauder. A Czech Jew who fled his native country for the Soviet Union, Robert had been deported to a labor camp in Siberia by the Soviets. Upon his release in 1942, he joined the Svobodova Armada, a Czech battalion formed by the Czech government-in-exile to fight Nazi Germany. Robert and Erika met while she and Beatrice were on their way to Prague. After marrying in Jesenik, where Robert’s unit was stationed, the couple remained there until 1948 and then moved back to Prague, where they had two children together.
After Robert’s death in 1957, Erika began trying to immigrate to the United States and was permitted to do so in 1960. After settling in the United States, she became a supervisor of a pathology lab. She volunteered at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.