A survivor’s story

Eva Schloss (third from bottom left), a Holocaust survivor and the stepsister of Anne Frank, is shown with students during a visit to Washington University last week. At top left is Rabbi Hershey Novack of Chabad on Campus, which sponsored Schloss’ visit.

Ellen Futterman, Editor

A survivor’s story

Who knew? 

Before last week, I had no idea Anne Frank, of diarist fame, had a living stepsister.

But there I was Thursday night, at Chabad on Campus at Washington University, enjoying conversation with 87-year-old Eva Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and Frank’s stepsister. Schloss was having dinner with student leaders of Chabad, along with co-director Rabbi Hershey Novack, before speaking to roughly 250 students at a gathering on campus. Wash U’s Chabad Student Association and Chabad sponsored the event.

Just for a little background — Anne Frank’s father Otto Frank, who was the only one in his immediate family to survive the Nazi death camps, married Schloss’ mother, Elfriede “Fritzi” Geiringer, in 1953. Geiringer’s first husband and their son — Schloss’ father and brother — died at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, where the family had been sent. The Otto and Geiringer families had known each other in Amsterdam before each went into hiding there, and were eventually found by the Nazis.

Schloss, who couldn’t have been more charming or receptive to questions, explained that it took her four decades until she could speak about her experiences at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It wasn’t until she was asked to say a few words at the opening of an Anne Frank traveling exhibition in London, where Schloss has lived most of her adult life, that she opened up.

“The organizer said I should say a few words, and I was put on the spot,” said Schloss, in a soothing, accented voice. “That kind of made me talk. I realized how interested people were and how beneficial it was for me because I had suppressed it. Suddenly I could open up. It was a revelation. I realized I could let go.”

She has since written two books, including “Eva’s Story: A Survivor’s Tale by the Stepsister of Anne Frank,” and is a co-founder of the Anne Frank Trust UK. Her family was also the subject of a play, “And Then They Came for Me: Remembering the World of Anne Frank,” about four teenagers in the Holocaust. 

Schloss said before her capture, she had a “very, very happy childhood” growing up as an assimilated Jew in Vienna, Austria among a close-knit extended family. After fleeing Vienna for Belgium because of anti-Semitism, her family eventually wound up in Amsterdam, where she got to know Anne Frank from the ages of 11 to 13. The two were born only a month apart, but couldn’t have been more different, says Schloss.

“When I came to Holland I had experienced bullying, anti-Semitism. (Anne) left Germany at (age) 4 (for Amsterdam) and became a real Dutch girl,” said Schloss. “She was very sure of herself and a big chatterbox. Quite intelligent, too, I think.

“I was a wild child, a tomboy. I liked to play with the boys, doing sports, mountain climbing, skiing, swimming. She and I didn’t have much in common.”

Schloss says it was memories of that happy childhood that gave her hope during her eight-month imprisonment at Auschwitz-Birkenau. The worst of the worst, she says, was when her mother was singled out by Josef Mengele himself, the so-called “Angel of Death,” to be gassed. What Schloss later learned was that cousins had hid her mother in another barracks.

“I thought I had lost her,” Schloss recalled. “That for me was the worst.

“At 15, you don’t want to die. I wanted a life, to laugh again. I never gave up hope.”

After she and her mother were liberated from Auschwitz, it took them five months to make their way back to Amsterdam, where Otto Frank had also returned. By the time he and her mother were married, Schloss was living in London, studying photography (she would later run an antique store). In London she met her husband, Zvi Schloss, a German Jew studying economics whose family had escaped internment by fleeing to Palestine. Married  for 64 years, the couple has three daughters and five grandchildren. Zvi Schloss passed away last year at the age of 91.

Eva Schloss says it took her a long time after Auschwitz to get over her depression, hatred and bitterness. “I realized that if other nations had let the Jews in, there wouldn’t have been the Holocaust. I was full of hatred, especially because I had lost my father and brother. That is something to this day I haven’t accepted. My own suffering I got over but the loss of family you never get over.”

She adds that it was Otto Frank who encouraged her to let her anger go. “He had lost everything he held dear. The only thing he had were the clothes on his body, everything else was gone. But he said he had no hatred. I asked, ‘Not even for the Germans?’ He said, “No. I am German. I love German literature, music. This is my culture and I can’t really hate my people.’ ”

With that, the conversation turned to President Donald Trump’s recent ban on refugees. Schloss feels strongly that the ban is wrong, but she also believes that Trump was elected because America — and much of the rest of the world — wants change.

“It’s not that the whole country was against him,” she said, referring to Trump. “A great part of the population wanted change. I don’t think they necessarily wanted Trump, but they wanted change. He was the only candidate as was Hillary (Clinton). The choice was either to stay with the establishment or go for something else.”

Rabbi Novack said the main reason Chabad wanted to bring Schloss to St. Louis was “to make sure students have the experience to meet and interact with Holocaust survivors while they are still alive.” 

Schloss, herself, says keeping the stories of the Holocaust alive for future generations is why she participated in an upcoming hologram display, which uses state-of-the-art, interactive technology to allow people to engage with the testimonies conversationally by asking questions that trigger responses. Storytellers sit in a chair with a green screen behind them, watched by more than 50 cameras that record every move from every angle. The resulting image is shown on a special glasses-free 3-D display and adjusted to make it look like the person is actually in the room. 

The futuristic project, called New Dimensions in Testimony, is being made in collaboration between the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies and the Shoah Foundation.

“I was sitting for a whole week in a cage with I don’t know how many thousands of light bulbs on me,” said Schloss. “I had to sit everyday in the same position and they asked me 1,000 questions.

“They are still working on it. But if your children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren want to know, it will be like I am right there telling them.”