Haunted by the Holocaust
Memories of the Holocaust were so horrible that Eva Schloss was hesitant to speak about them until she found herself in front of an audience gathered for a museum exhibition about her stepsister, Anne Frank.
“Everything I had suppressed for 40 years came pouring out,” said the 90-year-old resident of London, England. “I wanted to tell people how we suffered, how terrible it was.”
Since that day in 1986, Schloss has written three books about how her family became refugees from Austria, hid from the Nazis in Amsterdam for two years, suffered the horrors of a concentration camp and then the happy twist of fate that led to Anne Frank’s father becoming her stepfather.
While Schloss survived her brutal treatment in the camps, Anne Frank died at Auschwitz along with Schloss’ father and brother.
Schloss, who now travels around the world to tell her story, will be at the Medford Armory at 6:30 p.m., Nov. 11. Tickets, available through www.chabadofashland.org/annefrank, are $25 for adults and $18 for youths. A VIP reception with Schloss will be at 5:30 p.m. The event is being organized by Chabad of Southern Oregon.
In her first book, “Eva’s Story,” she describes her reaction to something Anne Frank wrote in her diary that captures the positive spirit of the young girl, “I still believe that deep down human beings are good at heart.”
Schloss, who had recurring nightmares of her ordeal, wrote, “I cannot help remembering that she wrote this before she experienced Auschwitz and Belsen,” referring to the infamous internment camps.
Schloss’ family lived in the same neighborhood in Amsterdam as Anne Frank, the two girls were playmates from age 11 to 13. They both went into hiding in 1942 as Jews were being rounded up and transported to concentration camps.
In her book, Schloss says Anne was quite a talker and was more advanced and sophisticated than she was. Anne also liked parties and was quite a flirt and liked having a boyfriend.
Over a two-year period, Schloss remembers hiding out in some seven homes, many of which were searched by Nazi soldiers.
She said there were often hiding places within hiding places to prevent their discovery. Some homes had hiding places under the floor boards, others used attics or placed a bookshelf in front of a door that led to a secret room.
In a two-story apartment, the upstairs bathroom had a secret tile door to a room that her family used to hide in.
To move to a new location, Schloss and her family braved the streets of Amsterdam, hoping they wouldn’t be found out. Luckily she had blond hair and blue eyes, which made it easier to blend in.
The danger of being caught weighed on all their minds constantly, Schloss said.
“It was nerve wracking,” she said.
For a girl who liked to play outside, Schloss had a difficult time dealing with the monotony of the days and the need to keep quiet. The nights were worse, when soldiers would randomly search apartments, arresting both the Jews and the Dutch families who gave them shelter.
The Dutch families also were fearful of being discovered and would sometimes urge a family to find a new place to hide. And rationing meant very little food for Jewish families.
Schloss’ family was ultimately captured after a double agent in the resistance and a Dutch nurse disclosed the location of 200 families.
She said the memory of the holding cell where she was placed was almost wiped from her memory because it was so painful.
“They interrogated us,” she said. “They hit me. They said they would kill my brother if I didn’t talk.”
Eventually she was transported to Auschwitz, where Jews were subject to mistreatment and brutal labor.
Many Jews, already malnourished, succumbed to illnesses such as typhus, dysentery or cholera that swept through the camps.
Schloss helped carry dead bodies out of the women’s barracks, remembering in her book that the corpses “stared at me open-eyed from stiffened mounds of dead flesh and bones.”
Many times she felt her life threatened, but Schloss said she never gave up hope, though she acknowledges she was probably about a week away from being dead when the Russians liberated the camp.
After the war, a brokenhearted Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father, paid a visit to Schloss and her family after they returned from Auschwitz.
On one of the visits, he said he had a copy of Anne’s diary, but it took him a long time to sit down and read it.
“When he finished it, he told us that he had discovered that he had not really known his daughter,” Schloss wrote in “Eva’s Story.” “Although, of course, he was on good terms with her, he had never known anything about her innermost thoughts, her high ideals, her belief in God, and her progressive ideas, which had surprised him greatly.”
Schloss went to school in Amsterdam and tried to launch a career in photography, but the lingering memories of that city haunted her.
She ultimately moved to England, where she started a business as an antiques dealer and got married and had three children.
Otto and Schloss’s mother married in 1953, a year after Schloss herself was married.
“I’ve never seen a happier marriage than those two,” she said.
Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.