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Anne Frank's stepsister shares experiences

By: Laura O'Brien Press Tribune Correspondent
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In a testament to her perseverance in the face of unfathomable evil, Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss spoke about her experiences at the Auschwitz concentration camp to a packed 529-seat Rocklin Event Center on Jan. 17.

“It’s wonderful to see such a huge crowd with lots of young people as well,” the 83-year-old Schloss said. “It is those young people who will have to carry on the message when we are not around anymore.”

Schloss’ story became entwined with the most well-known story of the Holocaust when she became Anne Frank’s posthumous stepsister. Schloss actually met Anne Frank in Amsterdam in 1940, months before the Nazis invaded the Netherlands. Schloss and her mother survived Auschwitz, as did Anne Frank’s father, Otto Frank. His wife and two daughters, including Anne, perished in concentration camps. Otto Frank later married Schloss’s mother, also widowed in the Holocaust.

Members of the Chabad of Placer County in Roseville partnered with other Northern California Chabads in bringing Schloss to Rocklin, said Rabbi Yossi Korik.

Themes of youth, love and death — sewn together with much-needed humor — permeated Schloss’s talk. She has spoken to 1,000 audiences and authored two books, including “Eva’s Story,” since 1986, when an exhibit from the Anne Frank House museum toured England, where she now lives.

Originally from Austria, she met Anne Frank, who was from Germany, when both girls were 11 years old.

“She was actually one month younger than me but she was much more sophisticated than I,” Schloss said. “She was interested in her hair styles and in her clothes … and in boyfriends. I had an older brother, so boys had no mystery for me.”

She said a call-up letter for her brother Heinz Geiringer, older by three years, and for Anne’s elder sister, ostensibly for work in factories, propelled both families into hiding in 1942.

The Geiringers shuffled between hiding places for two years. The women and men hid separately because it was too difficult to find a hiding space for a family of four. A Dutch double agent discovered the men first and tracked the women back to their hiding place after visiting the men. The family was taken to a camp in Holland then loaded onto cattle trucks headed east.

“That was really the last time I was together with my father and brother,” Schloss said. “My father, who was a wonderful person, a real family person, he cried and he said, ‘I can’t protect you anymore.’”

Upon arriving at Auschwitz, the SS wrenched the men and women from each other. Schloss then faced the first instance when she could have been selected to be killed.

“My mother gave me at that moment her hat and coat and the hat had a rim so when (the SS officer) looked at me he didn’t realize how young I was, and that is how I slipped through the first selection.”

The women were taken to the barracks, stripped and made to lie naked, and tattooed.

“We were told, ‘From now on you’re not a human being. You’re just like an animal who gets stamped with a number.’”

Schloss and her mother endured the camp for less than a year before the Nazis left.

“One day we woke up and it was very quiet and we went outside, no shouting, no screaming, and the camp was deserted. The Nazis had left, taking most of the inmates with them.”

She said about 300 women and 300 to 400 men remained, including Otto Frank. Soviet soldiers led Schloss and her mother eastward from the camp toward Odessa before the women found their way west, eventually returning to Amsterdam, as did Frank.

Schloss was devastated upon learning that her father and brother Heinz died at Mauthausen concentration camp in Austria days before American forces liberated it.

But Heinz lives on in his paintings that Schloss found after the war. She brought copies of some of them with her to the Rocklin Event Center, including, “People Playing Tennis in an Imaginary Beautiful Background” and “Boy Crying with Mother’s Body in Background,” both painted in 1944. Schloss’s 1998 book “The Promise” describes Heinz, who also wrote poetry and played piano, as a means of preserving his memory.

Schloss attempted to resume her life after the war, going to school and becoming a photographer, but she was deeply depressed.

“I was full of hatred. I hated not just the Germans. I hated the whole world, and it was Otto Frank who came to our house very often and said, ‘You know, if you hate people you will be miserable. The people you hate don’t know it, and so they don’t suffer.’”

Schloss moved to London where she met her future husband, from Israel. The couple married in 1952, the same year Anne’s Frank’s diary was published in America, and they had three children.

Otto Frank and her mother carefully responded to every fan letter about Anne Frank’s diary, said Schloss, who is trustee of the Anne Frank Educational Trust.

Young people that came to hear Schloss speak had not yet read Anne Frank’s diary. They said they wanted to learn more about the Holocaust through a firsthand account.

“It’s fascinating, really, just to be able to get a primary source on something as significant as this,” said Jack Dibachi, a freshman at Whitney High School in Rocklin.

Danny Katz, a sixth grader at Ruhkala Elementary in Rocklin, attended the talk with his mother.

“It’s pretty cool that a survivor actually can come here,” Katz said.

Connie Stafford of Rocklin, 86, remembered viewing newsreels about the Holocaust.

“I’m just so grateful that there’s something going on that young people today can be aware of it and pass it on … because people forget,” Stafford said.

Proceeds from the talk will help fund a new Chabad Jewish Center in Roseville, Korik said.