By Andrew Lehn —
On March 30, Eva Schloss, holocaust survivor and step-sister to Anne Frank, told her story to Menomonie and answered questions about surviving one of humanity’s darkest hours. Schloss spoke to over 900 people at the Memorial Student Center’s Great Hall as part of a five-college tour of Wisconsin.
Schloss is now by all accounts an extraordinary 85-year-old; she is the survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, author of three books and co-founder of the charity Anne Frank Trust UK with the mission statement “Challenge Prejudice, Reduce Hatred.” However, until 1938 she was just an average 8-year-old girl. Eva Schloss (maiden name Geiringer) was an active child, enjoying mountaineering and the outdoors. “I was quite the wild child; I had an older brother, and he should have been the girl and me the boy.”
Hitler’s rise to power and the German annexation of her homeland Austria changed her life unalterably.
Schloss began a journey for safety through Europe that would not end until seven long years had passed. “Before the annexation we had not experienced anti-semitism, but from that moment on, the population became even worse than the Germans.” Many Jews had begun to be deported to ghettos. Their family was driven from their home in Vienna and forced to cross the border illegally to Brussels without her father, who was working in Holland and later the Netherlands attempting to obtain legal visas. “By 1939 it became very, very difficult for Jewish people to get a visa to go anywhere in the world,” said Eva Schloss. ”If they would have caught us we might have been shot on the spot.” Finally in February of 1940, her father obtained a work visa for the family, and they were able to reunite in the Netherlands. That is where she first met Anne and Otto Frank.
Eva Schloss recalled first meeting Anne Frank in the courtyard of the apartment where they were living in Amsterdam. She introduced herself and later introduced me to her family, as they were all German speakers. “We became friends. Very often people ask me what the last conversation I had with Anna was, and I say, ‘Do you want me to make up something?’ because how can you remember?” said Schloss.
“She was just one of my playmates.” Schloss recalled more details about the young Frank. “She was quite a big chatterbox in school, she was called Ms. Quack-Quack. Already at eleven she was quite a flirt!”
For a few months things were good in Amsterdam, life was relatively normal, and the war seemed far away. “I felt very happy there, but unfortunately it didn’t last very long,” remembered Schloss. “One night we heard airplanes and guns. We put on the radio and heard that the German army was trying to invade our country. Well, they didn’t just try; they did it,” said Schloss.
They bombed Rotterdam, and within five days the Germans had overtaken the country and Amsterdam was no longer safe. “We tried to escape with a boat to England but as soon as we got to the harbor everything was gone,” said Schloss. “We were trapped again.”
Things became more and more dangerous. Jews were forced to wear the yellow star and often people would just disappear. By 1942 many were sent to Mauthausen, a horrific Austrian death camp where many were thrown from the cliffs to their death. Eventually her brother received orders to go to a work camp, and the family had to go into hiding. Her brother and father were split from her and her mother. They went into hiding for two years, moving eight times before they were betrayed by a Dutch nurse who was actually working for the Germans. “It happened on my 15th birthday,” said Schloss.
They were brought in a packed cattle truck with about 100 others headed to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. After about four days they arrived at Auschwitz. “It was an ordinary little Polish town, but the Germans had used the land around the town for the most horrible death camps,” said Schloss. “It must have been around 10 square miles of barracks and different camps surrounded with electrified wire.” Before she even entered the camp Eva felt afraid for her life. “We knew that Auschwitz was one of the biggest camps and that they had gas chambers.” Again Eva and her mother were separated from her brother and her father, this time for the last time. She would never see her brother again, and only by miracle she would speak to her father three more times before he and her brother died, only days before the Russians freed the camps.
Eva spent eight months in Auschwitz. They slept in barracks like cages with nothing inside. Every morning they were called to stand for two hours at roll call, given a tiny amount of liquid, then sent to work. After working many more hours they were given chunks of old bread. This was the day-to-day. Winters were freezing and summers were scalding. Once a week they were deloused. For about 40 years Eva stayed silent with her story. She never thought she would speak about what happened to her and her family. The horrors of the Holocaust still stop her from sleeping some nights. Eva hopes that by sharing her story she will help people learn from history’s mistakes and make the world a more peaceful place.
“If you hate people, you will be a miserable person.” That is the advice given to her by Otto Frank after the war, and it is advice she took to heart. “After Auschwitz this should never happen again,” Schloss said. “I have hope for you kids, the next generation, to do better. Through learning and reflecting and seeing the consequences of terrible things perhaps, eventually we will realize how we have to act.”