Hannah was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia on February 10, 1939. Her parents, Bedrick and Margit (Karpeles), had left Vienna, Austria, in 1935 for political reasons. Both worked in an Austrian emigree organization, where they were responsible for finding housing for the large numbers of Austrians who fled the Nazi takeover.
Soon after Hannah's birth, the Nazis took over Czechoslovakia, instituting harsh anti-Jewish measures. Mr. Hajek emigrated via Poland to England. Hannah, her mother, and her grandmother remained behind, hoping to join him when he got settled. In October 1941, the Nazis began deporting the Jews of Czechoslovakia to concentration camps. Hannah and her mother constantly feared deportation.
Hannah's mother was arrested twice by the Gestapo because of her underground political activity, but each time she somehow managed to get released.
In 1943, Hannah, her mother, and her grandmother were forced into the nearby Theresienstadt ghetto. The ghetto was overcrowded, lacked adequate sanitation and food, and was infested with typhus spreading vermin. People died daily of disease and malnutrition. Jews were constantly being packed into trains headed for the Auschwitz death camp.
In October 1944, Hannah, her mother and her grandmother were sent to Auschwitz. Upon arrival they were immediately taken off the train and murdered in the gas chambers. Hannah was four and a half years old.