A CENTENARIAN who was born days before the outbreak of the First World War and evaded Nazi death squads rounding up Jews in the Second World War, said she is ‘surprised’ to still be alive.
Christine Rieger, a resident of Littlehampton’s St Joseph’s Nursing Home, in East Street, celebrated her three-figure milestone last week.
The great-grandmother-of-two has spoken of her incredible life.
She said: “With all that I have gone through in my life, I am surprised that I am still here. Wherever I was, there was trouble.”
Christine was born in Czechoslovakia on July 29, 1914 – less than a week before Britain declared war on Germany.
She had a traumatic start to life, as her father was killed in the conflict.
After his death, she stayed with her grandparents while her mother recovered from the devastating loss.
While living with her grandparents she cultivated a love for the country and animals.
In later life she became a radiographer with an acclaimed dentist in Prague.
It was during this time her she met her husband-to-be, George in 1937, who was a patient at the clinic.
With the Nazi war machine gaining power and dominance throughout Europe at this time, George – a Jew – and Christine took the decision to get the last train out of Prague and move to Paris in an attempt to flee the impending conflict.
But it didn’t work. With the war erupting, George made the difficult choice to leave his wife behind and run to England in an effort to escape the Nazis and to set up a business in the UK.
In 1939, Christine fled from Paris, heading north into Normandy.
“Because my husband was on the Germans’ list of Jews, my name was there also,” she said. “It was a very scary time, yes.”
Christine needed to make her way back through France, into Nazi-held Paris, to obtain a visa that would allow her safe passage into England and to safety.
She eventually managed to cross the Channel and was reunited with George.
The couple married in 1940 and had two children and two grandchildren.
After the war, Christine retrained as a dressmaker, eventually running her own fashion business, selling top-of-the-range mink clothing for more than 20 years while living around the London area.
Her husband died in 1979. In 2002 Christine moved to Middleton and in 2010 became a resident at St Joseph’s.
Christine admitted that her faith was one of the secrets which helped her reach such a ripe age.
She said: “I think the secret is hard work and determination. All my family have done this.
“We lost everything but worked very hard to earn it all back.”