Eva Schloss, childhood friend and eventual stepsister of Anne Frank, visited the Suffolk YJCC on Oct. 30 to speak of her time in hiding during the Holocaust and the subsequent transition to life after the war – a visit organized by the Chabad of Mid-Suffolk, The Chai Center in Dix Hills and the Chabad @ Stony Brook.
At the request of the rabbis at the Chabad centers, Congressman Steve Israel presented Schloss with an American flag that flew over the United States Capitol building “in honor and tribute” to Schloss’ work “to educate the world about tolerance, to fight intolerance, and to bring justice to our communities and to the world.”
In interview format, sitting opposite a WCBS reporter, Schloss told her story.
Schloss’ family was happy in Holland, Schloss said, until the Germans invaded Holland in 1940.
Eventually, it came time to build a hiding place within a hiding place.
“They [the officers] always came at night, and they felt the beds, which were still warm,” Schloss said, noting that the warmth of the beds told officers that there were people hiding.
Schloss and her family moved six or seven times over an approximate two-year period, she said.
On her 15th birthday, she was arrested, interrogated and badly beaten – a double-agent nurse had betrayed her family.
“This nurse betrayed over 200 people, all being sent to their deaths,” she said.
The Frank family did not find out who had betrayed them, she said, and eventually patriarch Otto Frank decided that he did not want to know.
In the cattle truck, en route to Auschwitz, Schloss’ father told her with tears in his eyes that he could no longer protect his children, Schloss recalled; her brother, a musician who had to stop making sounds when the family went into hiding, told her that he had hidden paintings underneath floorboards and would go back for them when the war was over.
He would not live through the war; she would, and would recover some of the paintings later.
Schloss and her family arrived at Auschwitz, at which point she and her mother were separated from her brother and father.
She and her mother worked in “Canada” – the nickname for part of Aushwitz where goods taken away from people were sorted – to open the hems of items of clothing to find hidden gold. They worked there for three weeks before being forced to move to jobs involving physical labor.
Meals were “a little mug of liquid” in the morning and a little chunk of bread at night, she said. No food goes to waste in her house today, she said, because food was such a scarcely available commodity during her time in the camp. Her mother often gave Schloss her share of bread.
People slept 10 to a bunk, she remembers, often waking up to find that the person next to them was dead.
“I was 15 years old; I hadn’t experienced much of life,” she said. “I wanted to have a boyfriend, I wanted to get married, I wanted to have a family, and I held onto this… That really kept me going – the hope to get back to a normal life again.”
After the war, Schloss tried to return to a normal life.
She received notification from the Red Cross that her brother and father had died, but she had a difficult time believing that they were gone.
“I didn’t accept it,” she said. “For years, people did come back… all kinds of stories.”
Otto Frank, by then a friend of the family, learned that his daughters had died.
“He who had lost everything had no hatred in him,” she said of Otto Frank.
Frank told Eva that hating people would only make her unhappy; that the people she hated would not even know it.
When Schloss was trying to figure out what to do with her now “normal” life, her mother and Otto encouraged her to be a photographer. In 1951, she moved to London to work as an apprentice in a photography studio for one year.
She met a man in London; he proposed six months later. She told him that she could not marry him because she had a widowed mother in Amsterdam and needed to go back to her at the end of the year.
Then, Otto Frank went to visit Eva and told her that he and her mother had fallen in love. Eva went back to the man and told him that she could marry him. Today, they have been married for 62 years and have three children.
Schloss has written books about her experiences – one of which tells the story of her brother – because she decided that she needed to tell her story.
“We thought the world had changed, but the world hadn’t changed,” she said.
She, like many others, came out of the camp as an Athiest.
“If you see human beings acting like those Nazis, how can you trust anybody?” she asked. “I just didn’t trust anybody anymore.”
She is a “very, very proud Jew” now, having realized that living a life full of distrust made for misery.
“Hope is important,” she said.