Anne Frank in 1940, while at 6. Montessorischool, Niersstraat 41-43, Amsterdam.
(photo credit: PUBLIC DOMAIN)
Eva Schloss is famously known around the world as Anne Frank’s stepsister. But the 89- year-old also has her own compelling story of survival—one that she shared with over 800 attendees on Thursday night in New York City.
“We did hopscotch and gossiping. We were just normal 11-year-old girls playing together,” Schloss said of Frank, who posthumously became her stepsister. Having fled Vienna with her family, Schloss recounted that the early days in Amsterdam were happy ones. “We weren’t best friends. I was a tomboy and she was very into clothes. She was very into boys and when she heard I had an older brother she was excited to meet him,” Schloss reminisced with a smile at New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts.
“We must teach our children tolerance and respect, and remind them of the tragic results of hatred and intolerance. Even as the number of living Holocaust survivors wanes, their message is more crucial now than ever,” said Gillie Shanowitz, Co-director of New York Hebrew, the hosting organization of the event. The event was held two weeks prior to the 80 th anniversary of Kristallnacht.
In June 1942, two years after arriving in Holland, Schloss’ brother Heinz Geiringer, as well as Frank’s older sister Margot, received a call up notice with 10,000 other teenagers to be deported to Germany. Refusing to send their children, both families immediately decided the only hope of staying together—and alive—was to go into hiding. Schloss recounted that Otto Frank, Anne’s father, left a note falsely stating that the family fled to Switzerland, in hopes of confusing the Nazis—Schloss didn’t know where they really went.
Schloss’ family was taken in by a Dutch family, where they hid for two years, having to remain almost entirely silent at all times, with frequent visits from the Nazis searching the home. Schloss recounted that for her brother, a major challenge of years in silence was not being able to make music. Her father encouraged the older sibling to take up painting. Dozens of paintings from Heinz’s years in hiding were rescued after the war and on display at Thursday’s event.
Ultimately betrayed by a Dutch nurse working undercover for the Germans, on May 11, 1942-- Schloss’ 15 th birthday-- the family was captured and taken to Camp Westerbork, and then Auschwitz-Birkenau, where they were split up. “Every day in Auschwitz was the same. Hours of hard labor, dividing rocks,” Schloss said. Liberated on January 27 1945, Schloss explained that the hardest part was yet to come.
“In Auschwitz, at least we had a goal—to survive,” she said. Learning that her brother and father were murdered, Schloss and her mother returned to Holland where they reconnected with Otto Frank, who had lost his entire family, but found his daughter’s diary.
“I must admit I was not that impressed,” Schloss told The Jerusalem Post of the first time Otto showed her the diary. “I went through the same thing. Her hiding was bad, but not worse than anyone else’s. I didn’t really appreciate at the time what she was describing.
Her story of hiding just wasn’t particularly interesting to me.” With the help of Schloss’ mother, who eventually fell in love with and married Otto in 1953—making Schloss his stepdaughter, the diary was translated into English and eventually became a bestseller in the United States, and later around the world. It was then that Schloss came to realize there were parts—unrelated to the hiding— that did impress her.
“The things [Anne] wrote about feminism and religion, she was much more clever than me at the time,” Schloss told The Jerusalem Post. Depressed and unsure what to do next, Schloss was sent to England where “it was decided for me that I would become a photographer,” at the urging of Otto who no longer had it in him to continue his passion of photography. It was during her apprenticeship in England that she met Zvi Schloss, a German refugee. The two were married for 62 years, until his death.
Schloss didn’t begin sharing her story until 1986, but she “hasn’t stopped talking since,” she said. The London resident tells her story for her three daughters, and five grandchildren, but is also ensuring that generations well beyond her immediate family will remember her as well. Not long ago, Schloss spent a week in Los Angeles, inside a camera-filled dome, answering painful questions about her past. The recording will be made into an “Artificial Eva” hologram, providing a virtual reality for generations that won’t have the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivors.
But for now, Schloss shows no signs of slowing down when it comes to telling her narrative in real life. Making certain that her story, the story of her brother Heinz, the one of her playmate Anne Frank, and of six million others will never be forgotten, Schloss ensured the crowd with words her father told her while in hiding, “we are all a link in a chain—nothing gets lost.”
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