Born Geiringer in Vienna May 11 1929 by the Jewish parents Elfriede – “Fritzi” – Markovitz and Erich Geiringer. Had a brother who was three years older.
Shortly after Germany annexed Austria in 1938, the family fled first to Belgium and shortly thereafter to Amsterdam. Here they were found and deported to the concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.
After the war, she and her mother returned to Amsterdam, where Eva started studying art history at the University of Amsterdam.
In 1951 she moved to London and became a photographer. One year later she was married to Zvi Schloss, with whom she has three daughters and five grandchildren.
Eva Schloss has written three books about her life, the most recent “After Auschwitz,” which was published in Danish by People’s Press in May. In 2012 she was honoured with the MBE-order (“The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire”). She is one of the founders of the Anne Franks Fond.
”Children, I promise you this: everything you do leaves something behind; nothing gets lost. All the good you have accomplished will continue to lives of the people you have touched. It will make a difference to someone, somewhere, sometime, and your achievements will be carried on. Everything is connected, like a chain that cannot be broken.”
Sitting in a sofa in the Dutch city of Amsterdam, these were the comforting words by Eva Schloss’ father a night in May 1940. The Jewish family was fleeing the Nazis. The 11-year-old Eva and her three-year-older brother Heinz were extremely anxious as to what would happen to them.
They had fled their hometown of Vienna when the Nazis invaded Austria in 1938. Now Hitler’s troops had reached Amsterdam, and their father and mother could guarantee them neither safety, nor an everyday life or simply a future. But what they had was the love of parents. Their father held them in his arms in that sofa and gave a promise that their lives, now that their faith was uncertain, would have a meaning, after all.
”But at that point, I had not achieved anything yet,” says 85-year-old Eva Schloss today.
The entire family was captured and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. Eva and her mother survived nine long months in the camp - her father and brother died.
Eva Schloss is sitting in a brown leather chair in her living room in a small apartment in one of London’s nicer neighbourhoods, reflecting on that particular night in May more than 70 years ago. Despite the distance in time and the traumatic experiences she has been through, she still remembers very brightly the very last, safe moment she had with her family.
”I am very stubborn. It helped me survive. And I remember sitting there in the camp’s misery thinking that if I were to die now, nobody would remember me. So I decided to live,” says Eva Schloss, with a strong Austrian accent despite having lived in London for the past 40 years. The Rs roll a bit longer and she uses the sharp German “v” for the softer English “w” (“ven” instead of “when”).
In “After Auschwitz,” her autobiography recently published in Danish, she recounts how her family was torn apart during the war, how a number of coincidences ended up dictating life or death, and how it was to return to everyday life.
The Second World War brought Eva Schloss on a journey throughout Europe, which changed her forever. She was born Eva Geiringer in Wien on May 1929, fled to Amsterdam, was deported to Auschwitz and lives in London today. Her destiny meant that she, among other things, met the German girl Anne Frank, whose diary later made her famous worldwide.
Anne Frank passed away shortly before the end of the war. However, she left her mark on the world and became immortal because of her diary. Her father, Otto Frank – who survived the war - turned it into his life’s project to get the book published widely.
Eva Schloss’ chain was not broken. She has been married to her husband, Zvi Schloss, for more than 50 years. Today she has three daughters, five grandchildren and as time has passed, she has also regained her childhood optimism and joy of life, of which holocaust had robbed her.
Born in 1929 close to Frankfurt, Germany.
Daughter of Otto Frank and Edit Holländer, both of Jewish families that had lived in Germany for several hundred years.
The family fled Germany already in 1933 when Hitler came to power. They went to Amsterdam, where they were forced to go into hiding in 1942 when the Nazis stepped up their search for Jews. Anne, her sister Margot, her mother and her father Otto Frank hid in her father’s office building.
Two years later they were located and transported to a concentration camp. Her mother died in Auschwitz, while Anne and Margot Frank both died from typhus in March 1945.
Today the house in Amsterdam in which the Frank family was hiding is a museum. It is located in Prinsengracht 263, close to the Westerkerk church.
In 1942 Eva met Anne, and the two same-aged teenage girls played together in Amsterdam, where their respective families lived as refugees. While Eva’s family - which included her brother Heinz, her mother Fritzi and her father Erich - had not lived in the city for very long, the German Frank family had lived there ever since Anne was three years old.
“The Anne everybody knows, the soulful author with depths and feelings she talks about in her diary, of course, I do not know her,” Eva Schloss writes in “After Auschwitz.”
From the backyard, Anne and Eva lived opposite of each other. The day they first met, Eva saw someone contrary to herself. Eva was a blond, untidy girl who jumped around like a boy. Anne was more sophisticated, dark-haired and always nicely dressed with her hair set. Anne was lively; Eva was the shy one.
Anne easily made friends with her many stories and knowledge. She talked so much that she was called “Mrs Quack Quack”. Eva also met Anne’s father, Otto Frank, who she remembers as a “likeable” and “emphatic” man. Eva often visited their home in Amsterdam, where she had lemonade and talked to their cat, Moortje.
The two girls were too different to become best friends, but still Anne Frank’s ghost has followed Eva Schloss’ throughout her life.
“We were just normal boys and girls with teenage-problems, concerns, dreams and friendships. Under normal circumstances, our friendship would have been a brief encounter, but the name Anne Frank has followed and hunted me ever since,” says Eva Schloss.
In her diary Anne Frank writes about the difficulties hiding from the Nazis, but at the same time the book reveals great courage.
Anne Frank was granted the book for her 13th birthday and it covers the period 12 June 1942 to 1 August 1944. It consists of a number of letters to imaginary friends. She writes about the other people in the secret room, but they are given nicknames.
The diary was first published in Dutch in 1947, followed by an English translation in 1952. Today the book has been translated into a number of languages and appears on a number of international “must read” lists. The book has also been made into a film.
She was later called Anne Frank’s stepsister as Eva Schloss’ mother married Otto Frank after the war. He had lost his entire family; his wife died in Auschwitz and his daughters Margot and Anne died from illness in the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen a few months before the war ended. For many years Eva’s mother and Otto Frank travelled the world to talk about Anne and promote her famous diary. Otto Frank constantly talked about Anne, Eva Schloss recalls, and she was jealous.
“For a few years I was always introduced as the stepsister. But I am also a person with a story. Anne became famous, not because she hid but because she kept a diary. It was said that she was very brave. I had experienced the same thing and done perhaps even more incredible things to survive. I have to admit that’s how jealous I was. But I also felt bad about it. Therefore, at one point, I decided to let it go and just enjoy my own life with husband and children. After all I had a good life, so why should I be jealous of a person who was dead.”
Clip with Otto Frank from the archives. Source: Anne Frank House
Although Eva’s stepsister died during the war, she played a big role in Eva’s life for many years to come, not at least because Eva’s father worked hard to spread the word about Anne Frank’s diary.
Eva Schloss does not feel particularly connected to Anne Frank despite the time they spent together in Amsterdam and the family connection they got later. She became part of their lives through Otto Frank. He talked about her all the time. When her own children misbehaved, he often said that Anne would have done this or that.
By talking about her, showing pictures of her and comparing people with her, Otto Frank felt that Anne was still there with them. But despite having had to live in the shadow of Anne Frank, Eva Schloss is glad that her mother and Otto Frank found each other in their mourning. Later she was given the Leica camera that Otto had used to photograph his daughters. Eva herself became a photographer and later opened an antique shop. She still keeps the worn-out camera.
“I am often thinking of my mom and the fact that she was 40 years old during the war and had probably accepted that she would die. She had had a good life, but was praying that her children would survive. It would have been unbearable to loose her; I would not have survived myself. But we survived and had a life after the war, both of us.”
The future did not look good at all when Eva and her family no longer were able to hide in Amsterdam. After the Nazis had conceived their plan to kill all Jews, “Endlösung”, in 1942, informers and Gestapo-agents were hunting Jews hiding in lofts and basements and behind fake tile walls in a bathroom, as was the case with Eva and her mother. Here they first avoided being discovered when the German secret police Gestapo paid them an unexpected visit (even though an older Jewish man tried to save himself by hiding behind the wall and leaving the rest of them outside). But they soon ran out of luck.
“I was captured by the Nazis on my 15th birthday,” says Eva Schloss, as an introduction to the chapter about the capture and road to Auschwitz-Birkenau.
It was the morning of May 11 in 1944 in the Reitsma family’s old house close to the Vondelpark in Amsterdam. Here Eva and her mom were hiding, while here father and brother sought safety somewhere else in town. Eva woke up early, excited about what the day might bring. When she went downstairs, a birthday-breakfast was waiting for her on the table, including a vase with fresh hyacinths and tulips. At eight thirty sharp they were sitting at the table, ready to celebrate Eva. But just as they were to sing her a birthday song, someone rang the doorbell impatiently. German soldiers tumbled in and pointed their guns at the surprised and terrified faces.
“Here they are. The dirty Jews,” they shouted.
Eva and her family were later used as bait to catch the entire family with the help of a Dutch nurse and a hospitable family that turned out to be Nazi agents. At first they were sent to the Dutch deportation central Westerbork and later by train to the Nazi death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. Here, Eva cheated death at least three times and her and Fritzi’s lives could easily have ended up as grey ash on the sky of Europe, as was the destiny of millions of other Jews.
Eva avoided the gas chamber and overcame hunger and disease. But the Nazis got to the 15-year-old girl by other means. She ended up learning a lot about human nature and grew up fast.
“I was prisoner number A/5272 and part of a process that had one end-goal; to rob me of my pride, identity and, finally, my life. When I was led away from the train station in Auschwitz, I was separated from my brother and father and I left behind the girl Eva and her dreams. We had been together as a family for the very last time, and I would never see my brother again,” she says.
The Nazis established six camps solely for the purpose of extinguishing the Jews. Auschwitz was the largest and most famous of them. It opened in 1940 and was closed when the Russians liberated its prisoners on 27 January 1945.
1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, but only 400,000 of them were registered at the camp. The rest, i.e., 900,000 people, were executed upon arrival. There was a complex of shanty towns, including Birkenau. The first time Jews were gassed at the camp was on 12 May 1942.
Eva Schloss arrived at the camp in 1944, 15 years old.
Almost 1.5 million children under 16 were killed during the Second World War, a large majority of them at Auschwitz, where all children under 15 were sent directly to the gas chambers.
It was a beautiful and warm Spring day when Eva first encountered the death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. The ground around her was arid and dry. There were no flowers or trees. There was no life. The number of times when Eva and Fritzi could have died and the circumstances that helped them avoid it, is beyond belief. But experiences like these change people, also for the good. Eva’s mother, for example changed to become a decisive and brave woman while she back in Vienna never had lifted a finger and would be sleeping on the couch when the kids returned from school.
Eva’s mother decided to do her utmost to protect her daughter and saved Eva’s life many times by running brave risks. The first time was when they arrived at the death central in the grey, smelly Polish marshlands, where Auschwitz was situated. “Now we will all be killed,” a frightened person in the cattle wagon cried.
As they were descending the ramp, Eva’s mother handed her a long coat and a felt hat. Eva refused to wear it as it was boiling hot in the Polish Spring sun, but her mother insisted on it. This was the first time Eva’s life was saved. In the process of picking out who to be gassed right away - carried out by the notorious doctor Josef Mengele, also known as “Doctor Death” - Eva appeared to be older than she really was wearing a long coat and a hat. She avoided the queue with the elderly and children under 15, who automatically were sent into death. Out of 168 children from Eva Schloss’ transportation, only she and six others survived.
But at this point they still did not know about their faith. And soon after the first selection, death was again breathing them in the neck.
”Welcome to Birkenau,” said the female guardians, who were in charge of taking in new prisoners.
“You guys just ran out of luck. Can you smell the crematorium? In there, at this very moment, your families are being gassed. Now they are burning, and you will never see them again,” they shouted. Now it was the new female prisoners’ turn to undress, have their heads shaved and be led into a large room with long pipes and shower heads.
“I was a teenager and felt ill at ease. At the same time I was scared. We believed we would all be killed, right there. My mother held me tightly. My heart was beating loudly and I thought; now we will be gassed,” Eva Schloss remembers.
But no gas was released from the showers. Instead water was coming out. And in the middle of all of this, Eva’s mother had insisted on her daughter to bring her shoe inserts, the hated arches of metal, which Eva was forced to wear in order to correct her flatfoot. Her mom focused on those inserts as a specific hope for better times after the shower. Eva forgot the inserts in the shower and her mom very mad at her. Later they were given wrong-sized boots and those inserts would not have made any difference, anyway.
Her mother’s transformation
Sound: Listen to Eva Schloss telling about her mother’s growth and strength in Auschwitz-Birkenau.
“My mom changed a lot. It was amazing to see. Some people gave in and did not survive. But she became a better person. Life in the camp was filled with terrible and horrible things, and in the beginning I only survived because of my mom’s support,” says Eva Schloss, who later had to take over the role as protector when her mom became very sick.
One of the strongest memories from that time is her last meeting with her father after a long and unpredictable separation in the camp. At that point her mother had just been singled out.
“Oh, father, she has been gassed,” Eva sobbed in her father’s arms. Today she fears that the news made him give up. He did not live to learn that Fritzi was not dead but was being attended to at the hospital hut, saved by the mother’s cousin Minni, who worked as a nurse. She had previously helped Eva with a bad wound in the neck.
Meeting her father gave her hope, while the cold Winter of 1944 was eating its way into her starved body.
“You were totally on your own. There was no mercy. There was no energy for that,” says Eva, who ate carrot ends from the bin to get enough vitamins.
“To a large extent my survival was due to pure luck,” says Eva Schloss, who admits that not even the strongest will would have saved her from the gas chambers if she had been chosen. But she never gave up and she swore that she would never end up as a “musselman.” This was the term used in the camp for people who walked around as living dead with bowed necks.
In the camp Eva was lucky to get work in ”Canada,” a large area behind the camp that was “flowing over with milk and honey.” Here, the prisoners’ belongings were sorted and classified. There were mountains of shoes, glasses and even lines of prams, which it took an hour to pass.
One day, in January 1945, the Russians came and liberated the camp. After having been brought to safety far away from the front, the two women arrived in Amsterdam. Here, The Red Cross could tell them that Heinz and Erich had been sent on one of the death marches and had died of exhaustion in the Mauthausen camp in Austria. They had been brought home against their will.
In Amsterdam, Eva found paintings that her brother had made at his last hiding point, hidden under a floorboard. She collected the works, which she is displaying on a large poster with a photo of her brother. We agree that he was very talented, considering he was only a teenage boy. With his art, he left his mark on the world.
After the war
When the Germans had capitulated in 1945, there was a total chaos in Europe.
Never before in history had this many people been displaced.
Close to 20 million people were travelling Europe, trying to get back home or searching for a new home.
Among the displaced were soldiers, fleeing Jews and other prisoners from the many camps, forced labourers and ethnic Germans on the run.
Eva has later realized that life did not return just like that after the war. As was the case with many other survivors, Eva Schloss’ memories from the camp, the presence of death and the inhuman conditions were pushed all the way to the back of her memory. And there they gnawed on her mind.
Eva Schloss’ daughters later accused her of never having been 100 percent present. She had never told them anything despite the fact that the tattoo on her
arm every day reminded her and the surroundings about her being a victim of holocaust. When her grandchildren started asking her about the mystical numbers
on her arm, Eva told them it was her telephone number.
“I never talked about the past,” she says. And the silence lasted for 40 years.
Like many others, Eva Schloss discovered that the experience gnawed a bit less when sharing her story. However, it only happened once she was a middle-aged woman, by coincidence and without her knowing that this was the beginning of a journey through which she would slowly process her childhood’s ghastly memories.
It was an early spring day in 1986 at the opening of an exhibition about Anne Frank in Mall Galleries in London. Eva Schloss was invited to share her story, and she felt she could not say no as this was Otto and her mother’s life’s work. She was presented and started talking, hesitantly.
“It was a big and crucial moment. I regained something of myself. When I was done, my children and friends came over to me and wanted to hear more,” says Eva Schloss, who ever since has filled her days talking about her experiences, and she has just returned from an event in Glasgow from.
Anne Frank believed that people are good at heart. But her stepsister doubts that. Eva Schloss felt betrayed by everyone. The Austrians, the Dutch, the Brits, the Americans and all the other countries that closed their borders for the fleeing Jews. The entire world was guilty and the 16-year-old Eva Schloss, who was saved from Auschwitz-Birkenau, hated the world.
“There are good and there are bad people,” she says. And she does not believe in forgiveness.
“I will never be able to forgive those people behind the holocaust. Why should I? I have heard about a journalist who after the war interviewed Nazis in South America and asked them how they could possibly continue to live after everything they had done, start families and pretend that nothing had happened? They told him that they regret not completing their job. If that is the case, they should be punished although they have grown old.”
Eva Schloss says that after the war, one should have worked harder on re-educating Germans who had been brainwashed to hate Jews. Instead, after Hitler’s suicide and after peace had been restored in Europe, nobody talked about the genocide. There was no education. But it is not too late to educate the new generations that were not there, she argues.
Eva Schloss no longer hates the world. She has regained the happy child’s optimism and spirit. And with the help of Otto Frank, among others, she is sharing her story. Hate makes you miserable, Otto always said to her.
“And that was the man who lost everything. He did not hate, not even the Germans. On the contrary, he was proud to be German. He loved German culture and was able to not let the war overshadow it. I was not proud of anything at all. I had lost faith in human beings. It was gone and had to be restored, Eva Schloss has later come to realise.
She began to read the world history, and that helped her realise that also other countries have had a bloody history and have done terrible things. If holocaust did anything good to her, it was making her more interested in the world around her. She realised that “one cannot hate the world forever.” This is how she concludes the interview from her chair in the living room in London. Next to her Zvi has been sitting listening, and behind her is a painting of her mother.
Eva Schloss got an immense support from Otto Frank, who died in 1980. Since then she has held talks for prisoners and children throughout the world. After Otto’s death, she worked for the Anne Frank Foundation. That way two girls’ short meeting in a backyard in Amsterdam in the beginning of the 1940s ended up played a crucial role in Eva Schloss’ long journey back to life after having walked with the dead.
Eva left a mark on the world.
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Kristeligt Dagblad is a national Danish newspaper focusing particularly on faith, ethics and big questions of life in general. The purpose of our newspaper is to publish in a Christian spirit independent of political parties, religious organizations and movements.
No other newspaper in Denmark has through its history worked more closely with life's big questions than The Christian Daily.
Our editors work every day focused on putting current issues and debates in a wider context through sober and credible journalism. We have a comprehensive coverage of social issues, developing countries, culture and history.
The Eva Schloss story is part of our ongoing coverage of european history and was written by reporter Benjamin Krasnik.
All photos unless otherwise indicated, from the book “After Auschwitz,” People’s Press 2014.
Video and sound Benjamin Krasnik and Kim Schou.
Additional video: Anne Frank House
Producer: Kim Schou
Translated from Danish by Tove Gerhardsen.