A story of triumph
More than 1,500 people hung on Eva Schloss’ every word Monday night in the Medford Armory as she recounted hiding from the Nazis and surviving after being sent to a death camp.
“You have to learn from history so that history will not repeat itself, and that is why it is important especially for young people,” said Schloss, 90, who is Anne Frank’s stepsister. “It’s a terrible thing that happened, and could have been avoided. We must not hate, but love people.”
Schloss’ story started before the war when she, her parents and her older brother lived in Austria.
Slowly Jewish rights receded, she said, and the yellow Stars of David marked them as the rest of the population turned their backs.
Her brother returned from school with his clothes in tatters and blood on his face, she said. His classmates beat him while the teachers watched, she said.
Nazi soldiers would come into classrooms and instruct children to leave, Schloss said. The children were taken to stone quarries and thrown from the cliffs, Schloss later learned.
She said it became nearly impossible for Jewish people to attain visas and escape the Nazis in Austria. After Germany invaded Austria, she said her family relocated to Belgium and then to Amsterdam.
“It was such a dangerous time, and you had to make quick choices,” Schloss said.
Schloss met Anne Frank when both girls were 11 years old living in the same block.
The girls became close friends, and Schloss said Anne always had to stay after school to write lines because she talked so much.
“At 11 years old, she was quite a big flirt,” Schloss said.
After two years of fleeing the Nazis, Schloss’ family split — the females went to one hiding place and the males to another.
For two years Schloss and her mother hid in the nooks, crannies and even under the floorboards of the homes of seven different people who were willing to help them, she said.
The last safe home the family stayed in was that of a double-agent. On Schloss’ 15th birthday the family risked eating breakfast together and they were caught. Schloss said the homeowner turned over more than 200 people, sending them to certain death.
They were sent to a holding camp and eventually crammed into a boxcar with 80 other people and two buckets — one for water and one for waste.
“Once a day, big chunks of bread were thrown into the car,” Schloss said. “The only good thing was it was the last time we were together as a family, and my father with tears in his eyes apologized to us because he could no longer protect us.”
In the last conversation she had with her brother, she said he admitted to leaving behind possessions underneath the floorboard of their last hiding place.
“Eventually the train stopped, the door opened, and we were at Auschwitz, and we knew what it was because the BBC had aired it and talked about the gassings,” Schloss said.
She said the poisonous gas was manufactured in the camps by the inmates.
They were instructed to separate — males to one side and females to another.
“My father looked at me and took my hands and said, ‘God will protect you,’” Schloss said. “He couldn’t protect me anymore, but he gave me over to God. Then the men folk left, and there were these big whispers. [Josef] Mengele was coming. He was the camp doctor.”
Mengele performed deadly experiments on prisoners.
The first selection was when the first miracle happened, she said. A heavy coat her mother had given her helped to hid her youth from the doctor.
“He looked you over, and in a fraction of a second decided if you were to live or die,” Schloss said.
She said they were stripped of their clothes, told to forget their names and given a number. Those who hadn’t passed the selection went to the showers.
“But, of course, it wasn’t a shower; it was gas,” Schloss said.
There were not given underwear, toilet paper or water to wash with.
She described the bed bunks as three high and about a yard across which slept eight people.
“Not a bit of straw, no pillow or blanket, the only thing was lice and bedbugs,” Schloss said.
She said many people died in the first week due to illness, infection and starvation, adding that they were only given a chunk of bread once a day and forced to perform manual labor.
“I can tell you lots of terrible things happened, but I just want to tell you one of the worst things that happened,” Schloss said. “After about six months, it started to get cold, and once a week we went to a shower and a selection would take place, which happened because after a while without much food you become weak and could no longer work.”
Her mother had given her a bit of her bread each day, which meant that her mother began to waste away. She was taken during one of the shower selections.
“I could not even say goodbye to my mother, and then those naked women walked out and that’s when my mother was going to be killed,” Schloss said.
Schloss was starving, freezing and didn’t think she would last much longer. But then she was called outside, surely to be killed, she thought.
It was her father.
“We fell into each other’s arms and we cried,” Schloss said. She saw him twice like this and then never saw him again.
Sometime after those encounters a group of women claimed to have seen her mother at a far side of the camp.
Not trusting the rumors, Schloss investigated and found her mother alive.
She said one morning they woke up to silence. No dogs barking, no yelling, and they found that the Nazis had fled.
She said the prisoners spent more than a week on their own and many people died because there was no food and it was freezing.
“One of the worst things I had to do because I was one of the stronger ones was take the dead bodies out, and we couldn’t bury them, we had to pile them and the snow fell on top,” Schloss said. “It caused me many nightmares. One day I would speak with the person and the next day I had to pile their body on the bodies of others.”
After six months on a boat returning prisoners to their respective countries, she saw Anne’s father Otto Frank, who eventually came to stay with her and her mother, because neither had any money or place to go.
“When he came to tell us he had lost his family, he was 57 and he looked like a ghost,” Schloss said.
He’d found Anne’s diary, but it took him three weeks to read anything from it.
After searching for many months, Schloss and her mother learned that her father and brother had perished seven days before the Americans liberated their camp.
It inspired her and her mother to go back to the safe home and find brother’s belongings beneath the floorboards, where they located more than 30 paintings and poetry.
At 16 she found an apprenticeship in London at a photography studio where she met an Israeli man who was studying economics and renting in the same boarding house.
After some courting, he asked her to marry him after he finished his studies and to start a new life with him in Israel, which she declined.
When she told her mother and Otto this, he replied, “Your mother and I have fallen in love as well, and once you’re married, we’d like to get married.”
“So, I went back to this man and said you can marry me now,” Schloss said.
They were married for 63 years before he passed three years ago. They had three children and five grandchildren.
She said she didn’t speak about her experiences until she was asked to be on a panel at an Anne Frank exhibit in 1986 in England.
Since then she’s written three books, a play and has spoken at more than 1,000 events. She travels the world to recount her story.
“I told you about a couple of miracles but there are many more miracles that happened, and this is why I’m able to sit here,” Schloss said.
Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at email@example.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.