In her three books and countless talks to young people and adults, Eva Schloss, 84, has been keeping alive the legacy of the Holocaust. It is not a freely chosen vocation, but rather it became her destiny when her mother married Anne Frank’s father, Otto.
The small diary Anne left behind when she was in hiding with her family became a most poignant and devastating testimony to emerge from the ashes of Auschwitz, and an enduring symbol of the slaughter of innocents.
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“When we were in Amsterdam, we were the same age, 11, with Anne being two months younger than me,” Schloss said. “We lived opposite each other and all the children played in the big square. I couldn’t speak Dutch, she didn’t speak German, but she took me to her apartment to meet her family. We spent time together but I was a tomboy—a wild child—and she was a sophisticated little girl, interested in boys. She had a sister and I had a brother so boys were no mystery to me.” The girls, who had a casual friendship, never suspected they would be stepsisters, after half of their families were killed.
Anne and Eva had known each other for two years when in July 1942 their families had to go into hiding. Schloss, like Frank, experienced the most wrenching moments of the Holocaust, that of being betrayed and put into cattle-cars bound for Auschwitz.
“It was a horrific journey, yet I have a special memory of it because it was the last time we were together as a family.” Schloss remembers her father admonishing his children to always wash their hands, even though they knew where they were going and what it meant.
“When we realized we were going to Auschwitz, we thought our last hour on Earth had come.”
Immediately upon arrival people were put through the infamous selection process, where a wave of the hand indicated whether an adult or child was chosen to live or die. “I was very lucky to get through. Many, who were smaller or looked too Jewish or pale, did not survive.”
Schloss says the guards told the prisoners right away “with pleasure” what the smoke from the chimneys meant.
“In our train we were 80. Half disappeared. Everybody knew what was going on. They didn’t have to do it, they were indoctrinated, they were told, ‘These people you have to kill are not human beings, they are guilty of all our suffering in the First World War, inflation, poverty, they took away all our dignity, it is all their fault, we have to get rid of them’.”
Growing up, Schloss saw Otto consumed by the desire to keep Anne’s memory alive. She began speaking in public in the 1970s when she heard of the boat people, trying to escape Vietnam.
“I said, ‘The world doesn’t care again.’ People are killed for no reason, it happens all the time. This is the sad thing, that people have not learned anything, but I still have hope that in the future, as many survivors talk to young people, when these people become adults they will remember the message and will come to their senses.”
Eva Schloss speaks October 10 at Congregation Shaar Hashomayim, 120 Côte St. Antoine. 514-733-2221, x 236.