On the morning of 4 August, 1944, two families and a dentist cowered behind a bookshelf in a secret annexe in Amsterdam, listening to the sounds of heavy boots and German voices on the other side. Just minutes later, their hiding place was discovered. They were seized by the authorities, interrogated and eventually all deported to concentration camps. This story of the Von Pels and the Franks, who had been in hiding for two years in Amsterdam to avoid persecution by the Nazis, was made famous by the diary of Anne Frank after it was published in 1947.
It is well-known that almost the entire Frank family, save Anne’s father Otto, were killed during the Holocaust. Lesser-known, however, is the story of how Otto Frank rebuilt his life in the aftermath. Otto went on to marry again: his new wife, Frieda Garrincha, had been known to him before as a neighbour, and had, along with the rest of her family, also endured the horrors of a concentration camp.
Otto’s step-daughter Eva Schloss (née Geiringer), who survived the concentration camp, did not speak of her experiences until after her stepfather Otto died. Today, she is celebrated as a memoirist and educator, and has also spoken to History Hit about her extraordinary life.
Here’s the story of Eva Schloss’ life, featuring quotes in her own words.
“Well, I was born in Vienna in an extended family, and we were very, very close to each other. So I felt very protected. My family was very much into sport. I loved skiing and acrobatics, and my father was a daredevil as well.”
Eva Schloss was born in Vienna in 1929 into a middle-class family. Her father was a shoe manufacturer while her mother and brother played piano duets. Upon Hitler’s invasion of Austria in March 1938, their lives changed forever. The Geiringers quickly emigrated first to Belgium and then Holland, in the latter renting a flat in square called the Merwendeplein. It was there that Eva first met their neighbours, Otto, Edith, Margot and Anne Frank.
Both families soon went into hiding to avoid Nazi round-ups of Jewish people. Schloss recounts hearing horror stories about Nazi behaviour during said round-ups.
“In one case, we read letters that said they felt beds which were still warm where people had been sleeping. So they realised it’s our people hiding somewhere. So they demolished the whole apartment ’til they found two people.”
On 11 May 11 1944, on Eva Schloss’ birthday, the Schloss family were moved to another hiding place in Holland. However, the Dutch nurse who led them there was a double agent, and immediately betrayed them. They were taken to the Gestapo HQ in Amsterdam where they were interrogated and tortured. Schloss remembers having to hear her brother’s cries as he was tortured in his cell.
“And, you know, I was ever so afraid that I just couldn’t speak at just cried and cried and cried. And Sansa beat me and then just said, ‘we are going to kill your brother if you don’t tell us [who offered to hide you].’ But I had no idea. You know, I didn’t know, but I had lost my speech. I really couldn’t talk.”
Schloss was transported to Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. She came face to face with the infamous Josef Mengele as he was making decisions about who to immediately send to the gas chambers. Schloss maintains that her wearing a big hat disguised her young age, thus saving her from being immediately condemned to death.
“And then Dr. Mengele came. He was a camp doctor, a proper medical man… but he wasn’t there to help people to survive… he decided who was going to die and who was going to live. So the first election was taking place. So he came and looked at you over for just a fraction of a second and decided right or left, meaning death or life.”
After being tattooed and having her head shaved, Schloss details being shown to their living quarters, which were squalid and consisted of three-storey high bunk beds. Menial, gruelling and often filthy work followed, while bedbugs and lack of bathing facilities meant that disease was rife. Indeed, Schloss details surviving typhus on account of knowing someone who worked with Josef Mengele who was able to give her medicine.
Schloss described enduring the freezing cold winter of 1944. By this time, she had no idea whether her father, brother or mother were dead or alive. On the verge of losing all hope, Schloss miraculously met her father again in the camp:
“…he said, hold on. The war will finish soon. We’ll be together again… he tried to encourage me not to give up. And he said that if I can come again, and three times he was able to come again and then I never saw him any more. So I can only say that is a miracle, I guess because it never, ever happens that a man came to see his family.”
By the time Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Soviets in January 1945, Schloss and her mother were on the brink of death, while her father and brother had both died. After the liberation, while still in the camp she met Otto Frank, who enquired after his family, not yet knowing that they had all perished. They were both transported eastward in the same cattle train as before, but this time had a stove and were treated more humanely. Eventually, they made their way to Marseilles.
Aged just 16 years old, Schloss began to rebuild her life in the wake of surviving the horrors of the war. She went to England to study photography, where she met her husband Zvi Schloss, whose family had also been German refugees. The couple had three children together.
Though she didn’t speak about her experiences to anybody for 40 years, in 1986, Schloss was invited to speak at a travelling exhibition in London called Anne Frank and the World. Though originally shy, Schloss recalls the freedom that came with talking about her experiences for the first time.
“Then this exhibition travelled all over England and they always ask me to go and speak. Which, of course, I [asked] my husband to write a speech for me, which I read very badly. But eventually I found my voice.”
In the time since, Eva Schloss has travelled across the world sharing her experiences of the war. Listen to her extraordinary story here.