Anne Frank’s childhood friend shares story of life, hope at Paradise Valley gathering

Eva Schloss, on left, with moderator Chaya Levertov. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Rather than celebrating with friends and family, Eva received a brutal beating for her 15th birthday, before she was herded onto a cattle cart headed to Auschwitz.

It was May 11, 1944, that Eva Schloss, a childhood friend and later the step-sister of Anne Frank, recalls being taken into custody guilty of being Jewish.

Ms. Schloss kicked off a tour promoting her book, “Eva’s Story,” Monday, Feb. 13 at Camelback Golf Club, 7847 N. Mockingbird Lane in the Town of Paradise Valley.

Hundreds of guests arrived to hear the personal survival story of Ms. Schloss that moved the audience to laughter and to tears by focusing on hope. The Town of Paradise Valley began the evening by honoring Ms. Schloss with a proclamation presented by Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner.

Rabbi Shlomy Levertov, on left, with Eva Schloss and Paradise Valley Vice Mayor Jerry Bien-Willner. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

“I’m deeply honored, as a representative of the Town of Paradise Valley and also the grandson of holocaust survivors, to offer this proclamation,” Vice Mayor Bien-Willner said. “It’s a very important time — and there’s never an unimportant time — to learn and share information about the Holocaust and make sure it never happens again and we never see that type of hatred in our world.”

Nearly 90-years-old now, Ms. Schloss says she didn’t speak about any of her experiences until she was invited to celebrate a traveling Anne Frank exhibition in London in the 1980s, where she was asked to recount some of her memories.

“I was still very, very shy, I had never spoken about my experience and certainly not too many people,” Ms. Schloss recalled. “I opened my mouth and everything I had suppressed for 40 years came flooding out.”

On the run

Germany invaded Austria in 1938 causing many Jewish families to flee to avoid persecution. Among the emigrants was 8-year-old Eva.

Ms. Schloss and her mother, brother and father moved first to Belgium and then to Holland, where she was neighbors with a German Jewish girl of the same age — Anne Frank.

The two girls became friends and playmates, although Ms. Schloss says they had different interests.

“We became friends but not best friends because I was really a little wild child and I liked to play with the boys,” Ms. Schloss recounted.

“Anne was very sophisticated, even at 11 years old she was very interested in her hair and boys. When she heard that I had an older brother her eyes grew wide and big and she said ‘when can I come to your apartment?’”

The girls bonded over hopscotch, skipping and riding bicycles. Years later, Ms. Schloss would find Anne’s father, Otto Frank, during their imprisonment in a concentration camp.

In May 1940, the families heard airplanes and gunfire and were alerted by the radio that the Germans were trying to invade Holland.

At first, Germany’s presence was merely a nuisance, but it increasingly became more difficult to conduct their day-to-day lives.

“Each time it became more and more difficult, and then we had to wear the Jewish star,” she said.

“So when you walked in the street and a Nazi didn’t like your face or was just in a bad mood they could arrest you and you were never seen again.”

Children were sent to a Jewish school where they could be taken from their desks.

“They wanted to kill the young people first,” Ms. Schloss said, as she recalled children being taken from their classrooms. “In the evening the parents waited for the children to come home. They never turned up.”

July 1942

In July 1942, about 10,000 young adults received a call-up notice to report to work in German factories, including Ms. Schloss’ 16-year-old brother.

“My father and Otto Frank, and many other parents realized they wouldn’t send their children to Germany because they knew what would happen there,” Ms. Schloss explained. “My father called us together and said ‘you’re not going, but we’re going into hiding.’”

The family planned to separate, father and son and mother and daughter, and hide with Dutch families.

“My father said if we go in two different places the chance that two of us will survive is bigger,” she said. “That was the first time I realized he said ‘survive,’ so it was a matter of life or death. When you’re 13, it’s a very scary idea.”

Ms. Schloss and her mother hid in a variety of places for two years including floor boards, cupboards and false partitions, moving a total of six or seven times.

Betrayal came in the form of a Dutch nurse working as a double agent.

“There was one particular house where she betrayed over 200 people who were sent to their deaths,” Ms. Schloss recalled.

Later, the family learned this Dutch nurse had also betrayed Ms. Schloss’ brother and father as well.

“After the war, she got only four years. My mother was at the trial and she said she really wanted to beat her up,” she said. “She wasn’t even sorry for it.”

Eva Schloss was the childhood friend and step sister of Anne Frank. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

May 1944

After Ms. Schloss and her mother were betrayed by the agent they were sent to the Nazi headquarters, where they were questioned about their ability to hide for two years. Ms. Schloss was unaware that her brother and father were still alive, until a Nazi told her they had also been betrayed.

“They threatened me that they would kill my brother if I didn’t talk,” she explained. “I was 15. It happened actually on my 15th birthday, May 11, 1944, so that is a day I will never forget.”

The family spent their last days together being transported from a prison, to a holding camp to the concentration camp. Traveling by means of an iron wagon intended for cattle, the family spent days in inhuman conditions.

“There was about 80 people pushed into there,” she recalled. “There was nothing in it but two buckets — one with clean water for drinking water and the other one to be used as a toilet. There was a tiny slit of air. Once a week, the doors were opened and bread was thrown in like you would feed wild animals.”

The journey, Ms. Schloss described, was horrific.

“That was the last time we were together as a family.”

Auschwitz

As the cattle train arrived at its destination, the passengers had already heard news reports in recent years defining what the camps were, and the family knew their last moments on Earth were near.

“People started to cry and didn’t want to let go of each other but the Germans just beat us apart,” she said.

A medical doctor, nicknamed the Angel of Death, decided each prisoner’s fate by a simple glance and instruction to move into a group destined for death or a group destined for labor camp.

“He came and just with a little glance he looked at you, and like a conductor he said this side or this side,” Ms. Schloss said. “We lost about half of our Dutch transport, meaning children, babies, older people. It depended on how you looked.”

Ms. Schloss attributes her survival to her mother, who instructed Eva to put on her large coat and hat in an attempt to look older. It worked.

The prisoners were then marched into a barrack, which Ms. Schloss says came as a large shock to everyone.

“The first command was to get completely naked,” she said. All of their belongings were thrown into a large pile on the ground and taken away by the Germans.

“There we stood naked, then we were told we’re not a human being, that we’re like cattle who gets a number.”

The prisoner’s heads were then shaved before being forced outside naked to choose their new garments.

“There are two heaps, one heap is clothes — rags, really — and we were shown one garment,” Ms. Schloss said. “The next heap was shoes, and you were shown two shoes. Never of course a pair, never anything with laces. It could have been one boot and one sandal and that was all the belongings you ever had. You never had anything else.”

Living conditions included one cage-type area per eight people; bed bugs and body lice; a weekly shower; and “a bit of liquid in the morning and in the evening a piece of bread.”

“Very often in the morning, the person next to you had died.”

January 1945

When the Russians began closing-in on Germany, most prisoners were taken on death marches but some were left behind at the deserted camps.

One day, someone from a Dutch town came to the deserted camp and told Eva they knew of her mother.

Child Auschwitz survivors (photo by United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Belarussian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography)

“I didn’t want to believe it,” she said. “I just thought they just wanted to cheer me up. But it was true. My mother had been saved by a miracle.”

Ms. Schloss says about 300 to 400 women were left in her camp for about 10 days before Russian troops arrived.

“Indeed the Russians came with their horses, with their tanks and with their field kitchen,” she said. “That was our first hot wonderful meal, a very greasy cabbage soup. We had big metal bowls they gave us and we just slurped it up.”

Many people died that night, said Ms. Schloss, from over-eating.

“Their body just didn’t have the energy to digest any food.”

It was during this time Ms. Schloss says she walked about three miles to the men’s camp to look for her father. She didn’t find her father, but she did find Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father whom she recognized from being neighbors years earlier.

The Russians decided not to leave the survivors in Auschwitz, and Ms. Schloss and her mother spent four months traveling with the troops, being given food and uniforms.

Liberation

Ms. Schloss was informed by the Red Cross in a letter, that her brother and father had died in a camp just days before the American Army had come to liberate it.

Mr. Frank was also informed about the loss of his own family.

“He was 57-years-old at that time,” she said. “He sat on my mother’s lap and we cried and my mother said ‘well we have at least each other, but this poor man has nobody.’”

Years went by before Mr. Frank returned to Ms. Schloss’ residence with a small book under his arm.

“He said ‘I must show you something amazing’” Ms. Schloss recalled. “It was this little book — Anne’s diary. He said, ‘can I read something to you?’ He opened it and read a few sentences but he always burst into tears. It was too emotional for him. It took him three weeks to read it.”

When trying to reignite her life in Holland, Ms. Schloss found herself extremely depressed, and it was Mr. Frank who helped her overcome her sadness, she said.

“I was very, very miserable,” she said. “I had held onto hope to survive because I had hoped I would get back to my family again. When I realized that was never ever going to happen again, I became very depressed.”

Ms. Schloss says it took all of her strength to get through her days.

“It was Otto Frank who helped me a lot,” she said. “He had really no hatred, that was really amazing.”

Ms. Schloss married a man she met in London in 1952 while working as a studio photographer, and they had three daughters. Ms. Schloss mother and Mr. Frank married the following year in 1953 and spent 27 years together.

She has since engaged in over 1,000 speaking engagements around the world, written two books and has had a play written about her life.

News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be reached by e-mail at mfittro@newszap.com or follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MelissaFittro

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