Surviving the Holocaust

Eva Schloss shares harrowing story of Auschwitz experience at Oceanside Middle School

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Eva Schloss was barely 15 years old when she and her family were stuffed into a dark, windowless railroad boxcar and transported to the Auschwitz concentration camp.

“I had just turned 15, and I knew that within a few weeks, there was a possibility that I wouldn’t be alive anymore.” Schloss said while sharing her story at Oceanside Middle School on Oct. 24. “That was pretty, pretty scary.”

Schloss, a Holocaust survivor and the stepsister of Anne Frank, told the audience of about 700 people about her harrowing experiences during the Holocaust at an event co-hosted by the Oceanside School District and the Chabad of Oceanside. Rabbi Levi Gurkov, co-director of the Chabad of Oceanside, and County Executive Laura Curran were among the speakers at the event.

“What if the 6 million people killed in the Holocaust weren’t killed?” Curran asked. “How would our world be different? What books would have been written? Symphonies composed? Diseases cured? Scientific breakthroughs done? What would the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who were lost, what would they have accomplished? What would they have achieved? Let’s not burden future generations with the harrowing and unanswerable question of ‘What if?’”

Schloss, 89, was born in Vienna on May 11, 1929. In March 1938, Hitler’s army marched into Austria, and Schloss said all of her Christian friends began acting differently toward her. When she was young, her father, Heinz Geringer, a shoemaker, moved to Holland to work at a factory. She, her mother, Elfriede Geringer, and her brother, Erich Geringer, stayed behind because the Dutch closed the border when World War II began. In February 1940, Heinz secured a three-month visa to have the family join him in Amsterdam.

It was there that Schloss met Anne Frank, whom she described as a polite, mature girl. “She was actually a big chatterbox. Her nickname was ‘Mrs. Quack, Quack,’” Schloss said to a roar of laughter. “She had to stay behind at school very often to write 100 times, ‘I’m not going to talk so much in school.’” The two became playmates and started spending time together.

Hiding in plain sight

Eventually, the Germans invaded Amsterdam, and life changed for Schloss and other Jews. The Nazis took away their radios, prohibited them from using public transportation and instituted curfews. She recalled that Jewish people could not see movies, and when most people were buzzing over Disney’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” she was unable to watch it.

Schloss said that young Jewish children were taken to special schools and then disappeared. She said after the war, she discovered that they had been brought to stone cliffs and dropped to their deaths. With the danger intensifying, Heinz decided that the family should hide in non-Jewish homes to stay safe. Heinz and Erich went to one home, while Schloss and Elfriede lived in another.

Schloss said that the thought of separating the family upset her, but her father said it was their best chance for survival. “So that was really the first time, as a 13- year-old, that I became very scared,” she said. “If it was a matter of surviving, that means you might be killed, and that was actually very, very scary.”

At the time, Nazis were making nightly house visits to inspect for missing Jews. Schloss said she and her mother hid under the floorboards and after a few weeks or months, the homeowners would get nervous and ask them to move somewhere else. She said she hid in about seven different homes over a two-year span, and that the woman who was hiding her father and brother betrayed them — she was a double agent for the Nazis.

On Schloss’s 15th birthday, she and her mother were sitting down to breakfast when there was a knock at the door. Since Nazis did not usually check homes in the morning, the owner opened it, and the Germans stormed in, capturing Schloss and her mother.

Schloss said the Nazis took her to a tiny, windowless interrogation room with bright lights and a portrait of Adolf Hitler on the wall. The Nazis demanded that she tell them about others who were hiding Jews, but she refused even after they beat her. She and about 80 others were transported in boxcars to Auschwitz. During the trip, there were two buckets in the cars: one for water and one to use as a toilet.

“Once a day they opened the doors and just threw big chunks of bread in,” she said. “Like we were wild animals.”

A death march

Once they arrived at Auschwitz, the men were marched away to a separate camp from the women. She said her father wasn’t very religious, but told her that God would protect her. “My father, with tears in his eyes, apologized to us,” Schloss recounted. “He said from now on he can’t protect us anymore.”

The women were then divided into sides during a selection, Schloss said, during which a Nazi would look at them for fractions of a second and decide if they would live or die. She and her mother were spared, and led into barracks where they were told to undress and assigned numbers.

She recalled that there were bunk beds in the barracks — infested with lice and bed bugs — and that there were no toilets. In the morning, they were served a little mug of water and at night they were given a chunk of bread to eat. The Nazis also began bragging about marching the others into showers, where they gassed them to death.

She said her mother was chosen to die three times, but each time something happened to stave off her execution. The two were separated for months, however, and Schloss spent that time believing her mother was dead.

Liberation

The torture ended on Jan. 27, 1945, when Soviet troops marched into the camps in what became known as the liberation of Auschwitz. Once free, Schloss reunited with her mother, and they went to the men’s camp, where they found Otto Frank, the father of Anne Frank. They made the grim discovery that Heinz and Erich had been killed days before the camp was liberated. Otto learned that his whole family had died, and he, Schloss and her mother moved to Ukraine. It was then that he discovered his daughter’s diary, which she had kept while hiding from the Nazis.

“He burst into tears, and it took him three weeks to read it,” Schloss said of Otto. “He would always say, ‘I didn’t even know my own child.’ He was amazed about what she wrote about life and feminism.”

Schloss said she was filled with rage and hate after the experience, but Otto told her she would be miserable if she kept living that way. In 1951, she moved to London in the hope of becoming a professional photographer. It was there that she met Zvi Schloss, whom she married in 1952.

“After six months, he said to me, ‘Eva, I’ve fallen in love with you, will you marry me, and we could start a new life and go to Israel?’” Schloss said, “and I said, ‘No, thank you.’”

She explained that she didn’t want to leave her mother, but eventually learned that Elfriede had fallen in love with Otto Frank and planned to marry him. “So I went back to this young man and said, ‘You can marry me now,’” she said, adding a laugh. “And he was very happy.”

The couple was married for 64 years up until Zvi’s death in 2016, and Schloss said they spent a happy life together, something that she said she never could have envisioned during her time at Auschwitz.

Several people were crying in the audience as Schloss told her story, which resonated with attendees, including Ilyana Meyer, who said it made her reflect on her own upbringing.

“I can’t help but think about how lucky I was to have a happy and normal childhood,” she said. “I never felt persecution. I never felt like I didn’t belong. … I hope our children will have a future where they can be free to be Jewish and can continue observing all the traditions and holidays that we have been able to. Hopefully, no more people will ever have to pay such a huge price for acceptance in this world.”

Schloss began telling her story in 1985 and has recounted her wartime experiences at more than 1,000 events. She has written two books, “Eva’s Story” and “The Promise” about her life and is one of the subjects of the play “And Then They Came For Me — Remembering the World of Anne Frank.”

“This Holocaust was the most terrible thing,” Schloss said. “We lost 6 million of our people. … So this is the message: Speak up when you see injustice being done.”