More than 60 years after the end of World War II the story of Anne Frank's diary still stands as a living testament to the horror of war. This week, the Bay Area is hearing a first hand account of a woman who lived the same horror. Joe Rosato Jr. sat down with Anne Frank's step sister.
Eva Schloss calmly thrust out her forearm as if a routine gesture, revealing a row of tattooed numbers.
The 83-year-old Holocaust survivor fields plenty of requests to see them, as she travels the world telling of her time in the Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II.
“They ask me questions and ‘Can I give you a hug?” Schloss said this week, sitting in the lobby of a San Francisco hotel, where the London resident is on a California speaking tour. “’I’ve never met a Jew, I’ve never met a Holocaust survivor.’ It’s quite amazing.”
If Schloss’ story was simply about a young Jewish girl surviving the hell of war, it would be eternally gripping. But there are so many more layers.
After moving with her family to Amsterdam as an 11-year old, Schloss came to know a neighbor girl who was so chatty she was nicknamed “quack quack.” The girl’s name was Anne Frank.
“She was interested in her clothes, in her hairstyles, in boys,” Schloss recalled, emphasizing that she herself was a shy tomboy at the time.
Schloss, said the young Anne liked to have a crowd around, and was as outgoing as Schloss was reserved. Schloss remembered another key detail about her neighbor.
“She wrote little stories already at that time,” Schloss said. “But of course nobody expected she would become that known and write her diary.”
When the Nazis invaded Amsterdam, like the Franks, Schloss and her family were forced into hiding. She and her mother took refuge in a hidden annex in an apartment, while her father and brother hid elsewhere.
For two years, Schloss’ life played out in tiny rooms -- she described them as hiding places with even smaller hiding places within them.
“At night when the Gestapo came to search, which they did regularly,” she said, “we quickly went into this hiding place and hoped they would not find us.”
Schloss and her mother darted from hiding place to hiding place, seven in all. But their run came to an end when a nurse turned them in. She was briefly reunited with her father and brother for the train ride to Auschwitz, but never saw them again once the men and women were segregated. The last thing her father told her, was to make sure to wash her hands to avoid disease.
“This was for my mother and me the hardest after the war to cope with,” Schloss said. "The loss of your family in this horrible way.”
After the Russians liberated the camp, Schloss’ life circled back in a strange trajectory. She and her mother returned to Amsterdam where her mother eventually married Anne Frank’s father, Otto, who had lost his own family in the death camps.
Schloss described their 27-year marriage as a loving romance.
“When he went on the bicycle to work and my mother went on the tram,” she said, “he always rode with the bicycle next to her.”
The discovery of Anne Frank’s diary weighed heavily on Otto Frank, Schloss recalled. He was torn about releasing the obviously personal details of his daughter’s emotion-laden writings, while realizing the historical significance.
In the end, Schloss said Otto Frank gently edited out some of his daughter’s more biting criticisms of some of the people sharing space in their hidden annex in Amsterdam. At the same time, she said he left in details about Anne’s troubled relationship with her mother. Still, Otto Frank grappled with the publicity that would follow.
“The film was made and the play was made,” said Schloss. “Otto never went to see either. He said ‘I couldn’t face to see my family portrayed on the screen.’”
Schloss struggled to quell her own feelings about the brutal things she’d witnessed in the concentration camp. She eventually married and moved to London where she raised three children.
“I got married in ’52,” said. “But I never talked to my husband about it, nor to my children.”
But the decades served as a divine healer, and eventually the details, stories and recollections bubbled to the surface. Schloss, has written two books about her experiences and now travels the country speaking.
A pair of speaking engagements in the Bay Area quickly sold out. A talk scheduled for Wednesday night in the East Bay was moved to the much larger Kaiser Center in Oakland to accommodate the larger crowds.
Although she’s now 83, Schloss said she will continue speaking as long as she can, to educate young people about the Holocaust. She worries the years will dim peoples’ memories.
“You know there’s still a whole world,” she said. “A lot to teach and learn.”