Eva Schloss is a Holocaust survivor with a most unusual legacy.
First, she endured Auschwitz. Second, she’s one of the few remaining people who actually knew Anne Frank, who would later become her posthumous stepsister.
Born Eva Geiringer in Austria in 1929, Schloss — who will speak Monday, Feb. 27, at the Koger Center — first experienced anti-Semitism at the age of nine, after Nazi Germany annexed her native country. Her family fled first to Belgium and then to the Netherlands. It was in Amsterdam that she came to know Anne Frank, whose family lived in the apartment building opposite her own.
As the Nazi threat ramped up, Eva’s family, like Anne’s, would be forced into hiding; both were discovered and experienced similar fates. Both the Frank and Geiringer families were sent to Auschwitz. Anne, her mother, and sister would all lose their lives, leaving only their father Otto behind. Eva and her mother, Elfriede, would survive; her father and brother would not. Otto and Elfriede would later marry.
Schloss has made a point of keeping these memories alive. In 2010, she published her memoir, Eva’s Story, a gripping account of what it is like to be a 15-year-old girl in a death camp. She has also she continued to tour the world to talk about her experiences.
I know you’ve been asked this before, but how did you endure?
Most people didn’t. From the six million people, there’s really only a small proportion who survived. I was still young, I was 15, I wanted to experience life. I didn’t want to die. So I held on. But I couldn’t have made it much longer.
Auschwitz was, of course, one of the most terrible ones, but at least there was a selection there [to decide who would be killed and who would be kept alive to work]. There were camps where there was no selection, so the whole transport to the camp went straight to the gas chambers. If I would have gone to Treblinka, for instance, I would not have had a chance.
How have the memories shaped your adult life?
I don’t know how I would have been without it, but for many, many years I was quite shy and depressed; I didn’t want really to mix with people. It was in my mind all the time, with everything. You kind of try to make a life for yourself, but this is haunting you over time, until I started to speak about it in 1986, 40 years after, and then you can sort of let go. Eventually, you make peace with the fact that that this happened and you live with it.
Was it difficult to write the book?
No, not really. It was a relief, actually. Because I felt now that it is over I can let go, and even now when somebody asks me a little detail out of the book, I have to look it up again — I’ve forgot, you know? Before, it was imprinted in my brain. But once it was written down and once I spoke about it, I could let go.
In a way, you knew two Anne Franks: the real one, and the posthumous Anne Frank who become a worldwide icon. What was she like?
I knew her when she was 11 until 13. Her family had left Germany in 1934 when she was four years old, so she had not experienced any hardship, any anti-Semitism — like I [did when I was] nine years old in Austria — so she was very relaxed about everything. She was very clever and a very sophisticated little girl, quite a little lady. She was very interested in boys and clothes and hairstyles, and I was really a tomboy. I had an older brother. I used to play with the boys more.
She was quite an independent girl, knew what she wanted, had her own will.
What do you think, had she survived, she would have become?
She might have become a politician, because she was very interested in what was going on in the world. Or she might have become a writer. This was really something which she was good at, at that time, and interested in, what’s happening in the world. She might have become somebody of Amnesty International, or somebody about women’s rights, but she certainly would have done something involved in what was going on around her.