Eva Schloss has lived a long life, but the 85-year-old Holocaust survivor didn’t think she would make it past her 15th birthday. On that day—May 11, 1944—Schloss and her family were discovered hiding in Amsterdam. They were shipped off to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest concentration camp complex in the Nazi network.
Seventy years later, Schloss shared her tale at the Lone Tree Arts Center, one of many talks she’s given at educational institutions and other organizations over the past few decades. Although the subject matter was dark, she captivated the crowd with her energy and Anne Frank references (Schloss and Frank were childhood friends, and Schloss’ mother married Frank’s father after the war was over). If you missed the talk, you’ll have to buy one of Schloss’s three books (Eva’s Story, $13.37, The Promise, $9, and After Auschwitz, $11.66, on Amazon) to hear the full account. Satisfy your curiosity for the time being with her answers to the most pressing questions from the moderator, the audience, and me.
Q: In your book, you talk about having to flee your home in Vienna, Austria, for Amsterdam. Did you ever go back to visit after the war was over?
I didn’t want to go back there, and my mother said she would never set foot in the country that threw her out. But my daughter studied German and then my granddaughter did as well. She wanted to see her roots. We went to Vienna in the late ’70s. It looked still like I used to remember, but I knew nobody. It was like visiting a beautiful new city.
Q: You’ve had some trials and tribulations in dealing with faith. You were an atheist for a short period of time…
Not just a short period of time.
Q: Tell us about that.
In camp, the only thing we could do was pray to ourselves and ask God, “Please, stop this.” But you would see people who were close to you die next to you, and then be thrown on a heap. If we’re supposed to be created in the image of God, what do you say of these Nazis? It was unthinkable, and now again, when you see what some people do to each other, it’s not godly. It’s a mystery of life we will never be able to answer. If you’re lucky enough that you can believe, it helps you through life, I think.
Q: Your brother, Heinz Geiringer, stowed paintings beneath the floorboards in the house where you’d both been hiding in Amsterdam and told you about them on the cattle car ride to Auschwitz-Birkenau. [Heinz and his father later died on a march from the camp.] Did you ever find them?
My mother and I went to the house where the paintings were hidden. We told the owner there were paintings under the floorboards. She didn’t want to let us in. I started to cry, and she told us we could go in and look. We found 30 paintings that we donated to the Resistance Museum in Amsterdam. There were also poems from my brother and paintings from my father—lovely portraits of my mother. He had as well a talent that nobody had ever known.
Q: How did you find the strength to go on every day?
You have one life on Earth, and you don’t give that up easily. At the camps, they knew that somebody was going to die when they had given up hope. Only by holding on mentally did you really have a chance.
Q: Where have your travels taken you?
I started speaking in 1986 and since then—Australia, China, Japan, Germany of course, France, Belgium, Holland, England. And this might surprise some of you: I speak a lot in prisons. I’ve made many friends with prisoners; most of them are not criminals. They come from homes with abuse, drugs, alcohol, beating up of children. When they grow up, they don’t know what love is, what work is. But they’re intelligent people, not really bad.
Q: After telling your story so many times, does it ever feel like a different lifetime?
No. That kind of thing is very much a part of you. But I don’t tell it the same way every time. I share bits and pieces; sometimes I start at the end and go backward.
Q: Did you ever feel overshadowed by Anne?
Yes, yes! When I first started speaking, they would introduce me as Anne Frank’s stepsister. I said, “I’m a person myself!” That was before I was known, before After Auschwitz. Now I’m just happy if it helps. I’m not jealous of her anymore.
Q: Do you have any parting words for the younger generation?
What I want to achieve through talking is to have everyone realize we have to educate young people from an early age that we are all equal; we have to live in harmony and accept each other. Bullying is a big problem in London [where she lives], but why attack anybody? They’re just a human being like yourself. Start with your neighborhood or your school and teach that everybody can live in peace. I think that’s what everybody wants to do.
Follow editorial assistant Mary Clare Fischer on Twitter at @mc_fischer.