Despite imprisonment in Auschwitz where her father and brother died, Eva Schloss, the stepdaughter of Anne Frank’s father, remains optimistic.
“I think the young people are very giving to make sacrifices to make a safer and better world,” Schloss, 88, told an audience at Duke University Monday night.
Schloss told of her time in Nazi-occupied Austria and the Netherlands and in Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp during an interview with Duke Chancellor Emeritus Ralph Snyderman in a sold-out Page Auditorium, the largest theater on campus. Schloss’s appearance Monday night was part of a six-week tour. She has written three books.
Schloss said when Soviet soldiers liberated her and her mother, she was very depressed over her father's and brother's deaths and no longer believed in God or humanity, but eventually she regained her faith in both.
She was born Eva Geiringer in Vienna, Austria, where she remembers the early days of the Nazi occupation there. “From Day One,” she said, “Jewish people were pulled out of their houses and beaten up.”
And the Austrian people were quick to turn their backs on the Jews there, Schloss said. “They didn’t want to talk to us anymore,” she said. “They ignored us, as if we had committed a terrible crime.”
Her father had business in the Netherlands and managed to build up some capital there. That nation had escaped involvement in World War I, and, hoping the Nazis might leave it alone, the family emigrated there, to Amsterdam.
Schloss and Frank, who were the same age, lived near each other and got to be friends. She remembers riding bicycles with Frank and playing hopscotch and marbles in a square near where they lived.
But Germany did invade the Netherlands in 1940, and once again Jews faced restrictions.
The Nazis took their bicycles, banned them from public transportation and eventually forced them to wear yellow Stars of David on their clothes. Schloss remembers wanting to go see “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” but she couldn’t because Jews weren’t allowed in theaters.
The people of the Netherlands, though, were more receptive to the Jews among them than the Austrians were, Schloss said, and both her and Frank’s family went into hiding in 1942, aided by sympathetic Dutch.
Both families were betrayed in 1944, and sent to concentration camps, Frank leaving behind her diary that would later become famous.
Schloss and her family rode in cattle rail cars to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. At the camp they were separated, she and her mother going to the female camp, and her father and older brother to the male. She remembers being marched in front of Josef Mengele, who would decide who stayed alive and who would be sent to the gas chambers.
When the Nazis tattooed a number on the camp’s inmates, they said to them, “Forget you are a human being. Whenever we need you, we will call you by your number.”
Eventually she was assigned the duty of sorting through the luggage of new arrivals, a task which might have helped her survive because she sometimes found food in the bags. The Nazis barely fed their prisoners.
'Did you sing?'
The Soviets liberated the camp in January 1945, as the war was drawing to a close. Schloss and her mother survived, but she would later find out that father and brother died in another camp just days before it was liberated.
“Very often,” she said, “people ask me, ‘Well, when you got free, did you sing? Did you dance? Were you happy?’ But many people still died. So it was not really the end of our suffering.”
Her depression lasted past the time she and her mother returned to Amsterdam. There they were reunited with Otto Frank, Anne’s father, and renewed their friendship.
Schloss finished school, and still depressed and not sure what to do next, she went to London to serve as an apprentice to a photographer there. There, she struck up a friendship with a Jewish refugee named Zvi Schloss who asked her to marry him.
She said no at first because she wanted to return to Amsterdam to see her mother again. But when she talked to her mother she found out she planned to marry Otto Frank when her daughter was settled. So she went back to Zvi Schloss and said she would marry him.
Schloss's visit was made possible by Chabad Student Group at Duke, Chabad of Durham/Chapel Hill, the Jewish Federation of Durham-Chapel Hill, The Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education of North Carolina, the Duke Center for Jewish Studies and the UNC Department of Judaic Studies.
In an audience question and answer session, Schloss was asked if she ever forgave her oppressors.
She said she had forgiven Germany as a nation, and praised President Angela Merkel’s decision to let in a million Syrian refugees, but she said she has not forgiven the individual Nazis she encountered in the camp.
Asked if there is a God, how could he have let the Holocaust happen, Schloss said, “If you believe, you’ll have a much happier life.”