It took Eva Schloss four decades to give voice to her experiences during the Holocaust. She fled her native Austria, was captured by Nazis, and suffered through the trials of the Auschwitz death camp, but didn’t speak publicly about any of it until the mid-1980s, when a traveling Holocaust exhibition came to her new home, London.
The exhibition’s organizers invited Schloss to the front of the room and unexpectedly asked her to speak.
“I got up and 300 eyes were looking at me expectantly and after a few minutes, I had no idea what I was going to say,” Schloss told the Rivard Report. “Eventually, everything came flooding out which I had suppressed for 40 years. That was for me a big, big change in my life.”
Since that day, Schloss, 89, has traveled the world telling others about how she survived the Holocaust and why the Nazi system of death camps that killed millions is important to remember and talk about now. She had to learn to speak before an audience; at first her husband would write speeches for her and she would “take a tranquilizer” before standing in front of a group. Now, she talks openly and feels she has found her own voice.
Schloss will tell her story in San Antonio when she takes the stage at Trinity University’s Laurie Auditorium on Tuesday, March 19, at 7:30 p.m. Rivard Report Publisher and Editor Robert Rivard will moderate the conversation with Schloss, to which 1,000 students from local colleges and universities received complimentary tickets. The event is sponsored by the Chabad Center for Jewish Life & Learning.
Schloss and her family fled Austria for Belgium around 1938 to escape the perils of rising anti-Semitism. Schloss’ parents decided to leave after Schloss’ best friend rejected her and her brother was beaten by his own friends.
“I know what it is to be a refugee – unwanted, without money, depending on the goodwill of other people – to live in a country where you are not familiar with the customs, where you don’t know the language,” Schloss said during a London speech in April 2017. “People wouldn’t leave their country if they don’t have to. To become a refugee is something you only do because you really are afraid for your life.”
Later, Schloss’ family moved to Amsterdam, where Schloss met Anne Frank while playing after school. At the time, Frank was just one of Schloss’ playmates, asking about whether she could come to meet Schloss’ older brother. Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl has since illuminated the Holocaust for countless students and people around the world.
After Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940, life became “really quite dangerous,” Schloss said. Jewish children were taken out of their schools and sent to be educated separately. People started disappearing. Schloss’ family lived in fear.
At 13, Schloss went into hiding with her mother while her brother and father hid elsewhere. Over two years, Schloss’ family moved to various hideouts. On Schloss’ 15th birthday, she and her family were captured and later taken to concentration camps.
Schloss’ brother and father didn’t survive. After being liberated from Auschwitz, Schloss and her mother reconnected with Otto Frank, Anne’s father, whom Schloss’ mother eventually married. Thus, Schloss became the posthumous stepsister of Anne, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
Over the years, Schloss has answered plenty of questions about what Anne Frank was like. She describes her as “very sophisticated.”
Schloss said she prefers to speak to and take questions from children because they are the most uninhibited in their queries. They ask about the food and illnesses at concentration camps. Schloss recalls one 8-year-old boy asking how gas chambers worked. He didn’t understand how the doors could open and not spew gas that would kill the Nazis.
“I had never thought of that,” Schloss said. “They ask me all kinds of things – if I’ve seen Hitler, about religion, if I lost my faith.”
Today, Schloss describes herself as “not very practicing” but still very proud to be Jewish. She attends synagogue on Saturday mornings when she is at home and finds it restorative after long, busy weeks.
With a demanding travel and speaking schedule, those busy weeks are often the norm. There isn’t much time for rest, but Schloss believes her work is important.
“Something like the Holocaust, to plan something exactly like this, to gas 6 million people … to kill all the Jews in all the occupied countries, something like this has never happened, and I don’t think this will ever happen again,” Schloss said.
At a time when conflicts in Syria and Yemen produce suffering and displacement, she views her message as important.
And recent events such as the October 2018 mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue are signs that anti-Semitism is still in existence, she said.
In December, a sign reading “Fake News” appeared next to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in San Antonio. Schloss doesn’t think anti-Semitism will ever completely disappear, but advises those dealing with similar incidents to ignore them.
“Be aware what is happening, but do not become too worried about it, because the more attention we put to it, the more we put it in the public eye, the more people think, ‘Well, my grandfather was anti-Semitic and maybe I should be as well,’” Schloss said.
Tickets for Schloss’ appearance at Trinity are available for $20 at the Laurie Auditorium box office or for $30 on Ticketmaster. Tickets are also available online for a VIP package that includes a private reception with Schloss.