‘My granny wanted me to become a prostitute at age 6 – just like my mum’

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Eliska Tanzer tells the horrifying but ultimately uplifting story of her childhood in Slovakia in her own words…

For as long as I can remember I’ve known me and my family were vermin. We lived in East Slovakia in huge, grey, Soviet-style blocks.

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My mum and aunties, who I lived with, worked as prostitutes. The money they earned was used to feed them, with us children being given the scraps, and when we travelled for our weekly water, it was used to clean them.

We occasionally got a rub-down with a rag. My mother was a gypsy, and my grandma had been in Auschwitz where she’d been tortured for her gypsy heritage. She had a scar down her side from a vile experiment – the Nazis had sewn her and another woman together.

My father was a German civilian, and on the rare times he’d take me out, he was treated differently. People would smile at him and frown at me. But my hair was matted, I stank. Often, adults spat at me.

My grandma was keen to get me and my cousins working as prostitutes from age six. But my aunties said we weren’t to be sent out until we started our periods.

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My dad, also a volatile man with a criminal record, was kinder in comparison to my mum, and stopped my grandma from sending me to work. He didn’t want to be associated with it.

It didn’t mean I was sheltered from it. My aunt would force bananas down my throat to train me for work, and when I was seven I was taken along to work with my mum.

I never did anything, but I would have to dance naked while she was on her knees. Sometimes the men would touch themselves while they watched me, but a couple of times they’d swear at my mum for bringing me.

I know it sounds odd, but I loved dancing and being with my mum, so to me it was normal. In fact, the men would throw so much money at me, which made Mum happy, it made me feel special. Even if I was still rifling through bins for food.

I was six when I had my first bath. My dad, for all his faults, could be affectionate, and one day saw the state I was in and took me to a hotel. He ran a bath with bubbles – but I was terrified.

The steam reminded me of when my grandma cooked vegetables. I thought he was trying to boil me alive.

After screaming my head off, I was sat in the water while my dad washed me. It was the best feeling. My skin was a completely different shade afterwards!

My mum would regularly scream and shout at me, but she was abused as a child and struggled with demons. It seems weird, but I loved her, and still do. I know going to work with her could have been far worse, and I’m grateful to her that it wasn’t.

I was 13 when my mum decided to ship me to the UK. Her reasoning was she wanted me to learn to read and write, so I could ‘come back and buy her a house’.

Dad also wanted me to have an education, and with that, the arrangements were made. As I told my mother I’d miss her, she told me I should miss her for all she’d done for me, called me an ‘ungrateful leech’ and told me that she couldn’t wait to not see my face every day.


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