Her modesty, gracefulness and soft voice don’t suggest it, but Eva Schloss’ encounter with darkness has instilled in her a determination to tell the world her story.
A childhood friend and, posthumously, a stepsister of Anne Frank, Schloss, now 84, recounted her Holocaust experience to two packed auditoriums locally. The events — on Jan. 22 at USC’s Bovard Auditorium and on Jan. 23 at Cal State Northridge’s University Student Union — drew about 1,600 people and were organized by the Chabad Centers at the presenting schools. They were the final events of Schloss’ two-week California speaking tour.
Born Eva Geiringer in 1929, Schloss remembers her birthplace, Vienna, as a beautiful city, and life there with her parents, brother Heinz and extended family as very happy.
But everything quickly changed in 1938.
“It was a great shock for us when the Austrians embraced Hitler,” Schloss told the crowd at USC.
“I was 9 years old when, after school, I wanted to play with my best friend, who was Catholic, and I went to her house, and then the mother saw me. She slammed the door in my face and said, ‘We don’t want to see you ever again.’ ”
Hurt and sensing that things were not right, Eva asked her mother what was happening.
“Being a Jew will now be very, very difficult,” her mother told her.
Luckily for Eva’s family, her father had business connections in Holland, which allowed him to obtain a visa to work there. The rest of the family, though, could only make it to Belgium, not receiving permission to settle in Amsterdam until February 1940.
It was in Amsterdam that Eva met Anne Frank, whom she remembers as a talkative girl whose eyes lit up when she heard Eva had an older brother.
“She was a big, big chatterbox,” Schloss said lovingly, in her distinct Austrian accent. “At school, she was called ‘Mrs. Quack Quack’ because she never could be quiet.”
Schloss described herself as a sporty girl not interested in school, and Anne (“Anna”) as more interested in clothing and fashion. But they became friends, and Eva soon met Anne’s father, Otto, who would marry Eva’s mother years after the war.
When it became clear in 1942 that the Nazis had no intention of allowing Jews to live in Amsterdam, Eva’s father decided that the family had to go into hiding. Eva and her mother would hide in one apartment, and Heinz and his father would hide in another, with the intention of reducing the risk of all four being caught.
Schloss described the “immense boredom” she experienced during her two years of hiding with her mother in various homes.
“Imagine to be two years together with somebody,” Schloss said. “After a few days, we [had] talked about everything there was to talk about.”
Eva’s mother gave her a book to read and tried to teach her different things, but, like most teenagers, Eva “didn’t want to listen” to her mother.
In May 1944, when the Nazis stormed the Amsterdam apartment where Eva and her mother were hiding, they pretended they weren’t Jews, hoping for a miracle. But the Nazis had come looking specifically for them. They brought mother and daughter to an SS station in Amsterdam and beat Eva. She discovered that they also had caught her brother and father.
The same day, Eva and her entire family were then loaded into a packed cattle car whose destination was Auschwitz.
That was Eva’s 15th birthday.
When Rabbi Dov Wagner — who moderated the USC event — asked Schloss what her father’s final words were at the Auschwitz platform, she said that her father blessed her and told her, “God will protect you.”
Eva had already survived nine hellish months at Auschwitz-Birkenau when, one morning in 1945, she awoke to a quiet camp, empty of the usual shouting.
“We saw at the gate a huge creature, all this hair and fur and icicles on him,” Schloss told a captivated audience. “At first we thought it was a bear. But when we looked closer, we realized that it was a huge Russian soldier.”
The soldier was a lone advance scout but was followed by the Russian army, who cooked for the starving inmates cabbage soup with greasy meat, which Schloss remembers as delicious but also dangerous. Some of the prisoners couldn’t digest the food and died.
“We were really obsessed with food, but we realized we needed to be very, very careful with what we eat.”
Eva soon was reunited with her mother, who also survived Auschwitz, but she never again saw her father or brother, who were murdered at the Mauthausen death camp just days before American forces arrived.
Several months after the end of the war, Eva and her mother returned to Holland and met Otto Frank, who had learned he’d lost his entire family in the Holocaust. Schloss said that once Otto learned of their deaths, he felt he no longer had anything to live for.
Schloss’ deep love and admiration for her brother was evident whenever she spoke about him. She said Heinz was a talented artist and musician, and that he had mentioned hiding paintings under the floorboards of his Amsterdam hideout. Eva returned with her mother to the house where Heinz and her father were caught. They found the paintings, which Schloss brought with her to both of her Los Angeles events.
Around the same time, a broken Otto Frank came to see Eva and her mother. Schloss described her introduction to what has become one of the most famous books in human history:
“He came again with a little parcel under his arm, and he opened it very carefully, and he said, ‘I want to show you something.’ It was Anna’s diary.”
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